Jackson Laskowski's life can remind us all of some important lessons, starting with this one: enjoy the Popsicles when you can.
Jackson, the son of Michael and Maggie Laskowski of Harrisburg, has spent more time in hospital rooms during his short four years than most of us will in a lifetime. Yet when asked what he thought about the possibility of returning once again to Levine Children's Hospital, the Superman fan wasn't feeling the least bit sorry for himself. Instead, he proclaimed with full youthful exuberance, "I like the Popsicles!"
(Anyone who has spent lengthy stretches in a hospital room knows that Popsicles and tepid coffee are two dietary mainstays almost always available to long-term patients.)
Jackson, described by his mother, Maggie, as "just a normal 4-year old boy," is full of laughter, enthusiasm, and the enjoyment of life however it comes - despite the many obstacles and setbacks that have befallen him.
Just prior to his third birthday, Jackson was diagnosed with liver cancer, which had already metastasized into his lungs. After having 40 masses removed from his lungs and several rounds of chemotherapy, Jackson was able to be considered for and later received a liver transplant this past July.
The transplant, further rounds of chemotherapy and other medical procedures put Jackson into remission for a short while, but the family was forewarned by doctors that once chemo was stopped, the cancer could come back.
They just learned earlier this month that the cancer had indeed returned, and it is spreading fast.
"We knew that there was a greater than 70 percent chance that the cancer would come back in his lungs," said Maggie Laskowski, "but I was still surprised, because he had been doing so well and had responded so well to treatments the last few months."
A strong sense of faith - they are members of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in University City - and the support of friends and neighbors, especially the Harrisburg Business Network (HBN), have helped sustain the family.
The HBN carried out a successful benefit golf tournament on April 11. Several corporate sponsors including Title Sponsors C & J Plumbing and 77 golfers at the Rocky River Golf Club in Concord helped raise more than $17,000 for the Jackson Laskowski Keep Hope Alive Foundation that the family began to not only to defray their own expenses, but eventually to benefit families of other children stricken with the same disease.
In fact, the Laskowskis spent this past Sunday attending a charity event for another young child who also suffers from the same Hepatoblastoma cancer.
When not being shuttled between home and hospital to undergo chemo or other treatments, Jackson enjoys playing with younger brother Colton, 2, and often drives little brother around their neighborhood in his toy Jeep or rides his bicycle.
"He's a big 'Toy Story' fan," said his mother, "but you know how it is - at 4, his likes change daily."
Jackson's story and the thoughts and feelings of Maggie and Michael are detailed on a Web journal. Maggie finds comfort in recording the many steps along this arduous path.
"(The journal) is very useful to me," says Maggie. "It can be very therapeutic for a parent to go there and just vent a bit."
In the journal and in conversation, Maggie mentions Jackson's love of Tootsie Rolls, Superman, Buzz Lightyear and other joys of childhood.
Another joy some might consider childlike is shared by Jackson's whole family - the strong belief in miracles.