(The Rudd Family, L-R: Ella, Lisa, Jake and Kevin)
On the surface, Jake Rudd is just like any other 15-year-old boy.
He loves sports, namely lacrosse, hanging out with his friends and has an obsessive addiction to the video game “Fortnite.”
But dig a little deeper, and it becomes crystal clear that Rudd is no ordinary teenager.
More like extraordinary.
When he was just 13 years old, Rudd began feeling intense pain in his leg. He and his family — mom Lisa, dad Kevin and younger sister Ella — didn’t think much of it, assuming it was a result of playing a physically-demanding sport like lacrosse. After a battery of tests, Rudd was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on April 19, 2016. Ewing’s sarcoma is an extremely rare form of cancer that grows in the bones or in the soft tissue around bones; it usually affects around 200 children and young adults (usually between the ages of 10 and 20, according to WebMD) and, while usually curable, it still creates a world of pain, suffering and uncertainty for patients and their families.
“At that point, your world is shattered,” Lisa Rudd recalled. “Everything you knew about before, it is no longer. It’s a whole different world you never expected to be in.”
In Jake’s case, the tumor that was discovered was in the femur of his right leg. He endured 12 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by an extensive surgery that entailed his femur and tumor being removed, being replaced by part of Rudd’s fibula and the femur from a cadaver. He went back in for another 16 months of chemo following surgery, and for the last 17 months, Rudd has been cancer-free.
“They did perform two additional surgeries in the past year, since the leg was not healing the way they had hoped,” Lisa said. “The first one was a very complex surgery, and knock on wood we are hoping and praying the most recent one was his last surgery. We’re hoping it’s going to heal the way we had hoped, and the plan is for Jake to have a regular, working, good and normal leg. Hopefully, he can even play some sports, be active, run and jump and all of those things.”
Jake is still using crutches to get around, but his outlook and attitude have remained positive. He remained resolute throughout the entire process, even if it turned Lisa and Kevin’s lives upside-down. Lisa had to quit her job to stay home and care for her son, and, while retaining his own job, Kevin spent as much time as he could with his son.
Jake and his family spoke to HEADstrong following the foundation’s National Lax-Off Against Cancer press conference on April 25, an event in which Jake shared his inspirational story about beating the odds. The family and HEADstrong actually first came into contact before Jake’s cancer diagnosis, as the foundation was one of a few the family raised money for leading up to Jake’s bar mitzvah. The manager of Jake’s club lacrosse team had connected the Rudd family and HEADstrong, and there was an instant connection, especially after Jake’s diagnosis and initial surgery.
“Pat (Colleluori, HEADstrong Chief Marketing Officer) and I talked for about two hours one day not long after Jake’s surgery,” Kevin Rudd said. “He told me about his brother Nick, who came out of the hospital from cancer treatment and put his uniform and pads on and played, even though he was very sick. It didn’t stop him. I went home and told Jake that story when he was really hurting, recovering from extensive surgery. We’ve kept in contact throughout the past couple years.”
“It’s amazing what the foundation does, and they have been so helpful to us,” Lisa added. “What they provide here is wonderful. Having Jake here to be a part of this, we’re very grateful to turn this horrific experience into something positive. We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve all grown from it and want to use the experience to help others. We’re real proud to be part of the HEADstrong Foundation in any way possible.”
Just like Nick Colleluori, Jake Rudd’s own sense of normalcy has been sacred to him during his odyssey. Lisa said he “put his blinders on” through the process, and was “business as usual,” attending football games or fireworks shows even when he was nauseous, balding and using a wheelchair to get around.
“His attitude has been amazing,” Lisa said.
“I’m very proud of him,” Ella added.
“Pretty much through this whole thing, I was fine,” Jake said. “Luckily, I had a great support system of family and friends who always stood by my side. I’m very thankful. They kept me from going crazy.”