A cancer diagnosis and chemo treatments are hard. Working and simply living within a pandemic is hard. Combine those two things together and it seems very nearly impossible. Those were the odds stacked against Jacob Webster when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer this August.
Webster, who goes by Webby because “there are a lot of Jacob’s,” bears few scars from his August bout with cancer save for a head of peach fuzz where his hair is trying to grow back. On campus he wears his trademark suits and is known by many as simply the “suit guy.” He smiles and jokes and is willing to help anyone who needs it at a moment’s notice. It’d be hard to tell from just a glance the pain and struggle he endured earlier this year.
This summer, as he prepared for his final year at Ferris studying manufacturing and engineering technology, his plans came to a sudden halt.
Three weeks before classes started Webster endured surgery to remove one of his testicles and the biopsy found that it was 80% lymphatic invasion cancer. The doctor recommended a round of chemotherapy because it would lower the risk of relapse from 50% down to 10%.
“It (the chemo) was three weeks long, for the first week it was every single day for five hours and then the next two weeks it was on Monday for two hours,” Webster said.
The first week was intensive and draining, but he didn’t really begin to feel the full effects until the following two weeks. Those weeks, virtual resident assistant training through Ferris overlapped with the chemotherapy, adding another level of exhaustion when trying to stay awake for zoom training.
COVID-19 increased the level of isolation and complexity after the unexpected diagnosis.
“Normally if you get cancer or get sick, people come see you and give support, but they couldn’t really do that. So, the only people I really made contact with were my family and the person I was dating at that time,” Webster said.
While being in the hospital receiving treatment, he was only permitted to have one visitor, and it had to be the same person throughout the weeks of treatment. He chose his mom, Christine.
“She’s a really important person for me and she pretty much knows what to say all the time and she really helped me through it,” Webster said.
The hours spent in chemotherapy were in one giant room surrounded by other patients receiving various types of treatments. While there, Webster wasn’t allowed to walk around or do anything. Instead, he slept as his mom did work beside him.
“The funny thing about being a mother is that you just have this overwhelming sense of helplessness while you watch your kid go through pain,” Webster’s mom, Christine, said.
Despite the sudden diagnosis, and the immense physical pain and illness, that wasn’t what was at the forefront of Webster’s mind.
“The biggest thing that really hit me was the fact that it had to do with the testicles and one of my biggest things is that I want to have my own kids,” Webster said.
It became a bigger issue than surgery, chemo or cancer because now it could directly impact a lifelong dream. Despite the illness, fatigue and sadness Webster was still able to keep a positive attitude.
“It sounds kind of dumb but I just kind of joked around with it,” said Webster. “I had days when I was pretty depressed, I just kind of pushed through it and kept going.”
While Webster went through chemotherapy there was an average of over 800 COVID diagnosis per day throughout the state, the highest infection rate since May.
“When you go through chemotherapy your white blood cells are nonexistent. So, any little flu or cough or anything can really get you, can almost kill you,” said Webster.
This is always a concern for cancer patients but was even more considering the coronavirus pandemic. Especially coming back to campus, he needed to take extra precautions because, clearly, catching COVID-19 simply wasn’t an option. He knew a diagnosis like that on top of his compromised immune system could be too much for his body to bear.
For the first few weeks back he laid low, remaining mostly in his room playing video games with a few friends. The RA’s in his building where he lives, and works were willing to pick up shifts for him so he didn’t have to spend time at the front desk, increasing his chances of getting exposed to COVID-19 or other illnesses.
His immune system was almost completely gone for two weeks after the chemo finished, for a total of five weeks of decreased immune function. This was a relatively quick recovery, but amid this pandemic required an extra level of caution.
Fortunately, prior to his diagnosis, Webster was fit and otherwise healthy which was hugely beneficial to his recovery. Webster has always been an avid rock climber, and this exercise may be one of the reasons his immune system recovered so well.
“In 2012 I went to nationals in Colorado Springs, for my age group I was 26th in the nation for rock climbing,” explained Webster. Although since college he hasn’t been as involved in the climbing scene, it’s still a lifelong hobby.
Webster doesn’t dwell on the past or worry too much about the thought of a relapse. Instead, he is looking to the future. He’s back to wearing suits on campus, rock climbing, woodworking and sewing.
More important than any hobby is that he’s been able to spend time with friends again. Although he still needs to be cautious about COVID-19, he’s had more freedom to enjoy his friend’s company.
“The biggest feature of me is that I truly try and be loyal and stick with people and try my best to help anyone, which is one of the reasons I became an RA and also the field I’m going into is because I want to help any way I can,” said Webster.
Gretchen Parker is also a senior at Ferris, and one of Webster’s closest friends throughout the years.
“Webby is the kindest, most dependable friend anyone could ask for; he will drop everything for a friend in need whether or not what he’s doing is important. He’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met,” said Parker.
Although there is currently no vaccination for COVID-19, and there is not a quick and easy cure for cancer, Webster is not letting that stop him from moving forward in life. For the next five years there will be scans and blood tests every three months.
“I hate the doctor, and over the next five years I’m basically under their eye to make sure that I don’t get it again,” said Webster.
Assuming the next two years of checkups go well, Webster’s risk of relapse will go down to 2%. Despite the appointments and tests Webster has vowed to not live in fear as he holds a newfound appreciation for his family, friends and his health.