During his yearlong treatment for a rare cancer, Jake danced with his nurses, child life specialists and doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital. He boogied in his hospital room, in the hallways, and even on the way to the operating room. His parents say dance helped Jake recover from his treatments and surgery. It helped them cope with their son's illness.
"Even though Jake went through so much, he uplifted us," Ashley said. "We thought, if he can have fun through all of this, why can't we?"
Kyle and Ashley knew something was wrong when Jake wasn't acting like himself at a Fourth of July picnic in 2013. Agitated and restless, the toddler wasn't his "silly self" and refused to dance or play with the other children. A few days later he began limping. An ultrasound performed in the emergency room at Comer Children's showed a large mass resting in the lower part of his abdomen and reaching into his pelvis.
A biopsy revealed the mass to be a sarcoma, a fast-growing cancer. The tumor was 4 inches in diameter, about the size of a small grapefruit. For Jake, several rounds of chemotherapy were needed to shrink the tumor to half its original size. It was then small enough to be removed, but Jake's surgery would be complicated. The tumor was wrapped around critical blood vessels as well as the right ureter, a tube that brings urine from the kidney to the bladder.
On the morning of the surgery in January 2014, Ashley and Kyle danced with Jake to the song "Happy" as they headed toward the operating room doors; there they turned him over to the surgical team. "Jake knew something was going on," Ashley recalled, "but I think it made him feel better to see us laughing and dancing."