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Wyandotte goalie takes on the fight of his life, battles cancer and returns to the ice

Hockey   | Ben Szilagy

Wyandotte goalie takes on the fight of his life, battles cancer and returns to the ice

 

Wyandotte - Jennifer Timmerman didn’t think anything of her two sons, Jake and Garrett playing basketball in the driveway last Easter Sunday. That is, not until Jake began to develop a cough.

It was a cough that didn’t appear after a few hours of shooting hoops. The cough had been with Jake for much longer than that.

“I always had a bad cough since last hockey season,” Timmerman said. “So I didn’t think anything of it at first.”

Timmerman, 16, is a two-sport athlete at Wyandotte Roosevelt (baseball and hockey). He’s always loved not only playing games, but attending them as well. A few days later after watching the Detroit Red Wings play their last home game of the regular season, Timmerman’s cough worsened.

The cough was so bad that he kept waking up in the middle of the night, complaining of not his cough, but his inability to breathe. He moved from his bedroom, and made his way to his parent’s couch in the living room where he sat there trying to wait the cough out.

The next morning, April 8, Timmerman had an appointment to see a doctor because his mom feared that her son had pneumonia.

“I had my husband take (Jake) to the doctors,” she explained. “I told him to make sure they give Jake an x-ray because I thought he had pneumonia. I thought it was something bad.”

What the doctor found wasn’t just something bad. It was considerably worse.

After the examination at a local family clinic, the doctors noticed something suspicious. After a brief discussion, the doctors wanted a second opinion to confirm their suspicions.

“My husband called me and he said they were going to (hospital) because they saw something on the chest x-ray and they weren’t sure what it was,” Jennifer Timmerman said. “Then he whispered into the phone ‘you need to call them. They know something.’”

That’s when Timmerman and his father, Tim, hurried to Ann Arbor to Mott’s Children Hospital where more tests and x-rays were administered.

“I called the doctor's office and they told me it looks like a tumor on the x-ray,” Jennifer said.  “They said that it was so big, and they were pretty sure. They did another x-ray, and the doctor said they were confident he had a mass in his chest.

“I’m an ICU nurse and I know what a chest x-ray is supposed to look like, and this was one of the worst chest x-rays I’ve ever seen, and it was on my son. I was in shock, and there were a lot tears. I tried to pull it together, but you never know.

“The first thing you think of is you might lose your kid.”

The test revealed that her son had stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that began to grow during the season. The difference between stage one and stage two is that Hodgkin Lymphoma in the latter is in two or more groups of lymph nodes or an organ, and one or more group of lymph nodes.

In Jake’s case, the tumor was pressing on his trachea and his right lower lymph nodes were collapsed. The tumor was also around his superior vena cava, his pulmonary artery, and his heart. The silver lining was that the negative pressure from Timmerman’s breathing prevented the tumor from collapsing his trachea completely.

The tests also revealed that the tumor weighed nine pounds but, due to its location, treatment would have to be done without anesthesia out of fear that if Timmerman’s breathing became too shallow the tumor may also collapse his lungs.

“When I was in the hospital, the doctors wanted to do some tests to see what stage it was,” he said. “They wanted to check my bone marrow, give me a biopsy (turned out to be three) and a spinal tap.

“They told me that couldn’t put me under any anesthesia because if I went under, my lungs could have collapsed from the tumor. That whole time, I was kind of out of it, but I was still aware. It was just painful. I just wanted to get it over with because of how painful it was.”

As he dealt with the pain, Timmerman was unaware of just how exhaustive the treatment plan would be and that he might never play a game that he loved since he was seven.

During his hospital stay, and after many meetings with doctors, Timmerman was given a piece of paper that explained what his life would consist of in regards to treatments and side-effects. While Timmerman read the sheet his biggest fear was realized.

The treatment plan consisted of eight cycles of chemotherapy (two rounds within each cycle) that would last nine months to a year.

“As I was reading it, I immediately threw the paper across the room, because I knew that meant that I’d miss the season,” Timmerman said.

“My mom was crying and asked what was wrong? I told her I’m not missing a year of hockey, and she kept telling me how that wasn’t important. But it was important. How is it not?

“I just wanted to play.”

The world Timmerman knew was going through a seismic shift. But the physical and mental healing began immediately thanks to Wyandotte hockey coach Mike Quint. After Quint visited the Timmermans in the hospital, he assured them they wouldn’t have to worry about a thing because they weren’t members of the same community; they were a family.

Quint helped re-do a room at the Timmerman’s home to ensure Jake had a special clean sanctuary when he returned. The room is painted in the school colors, blue, white and gold, and has a painting of a bear (Wyandotte’s nickname and mascot) looking over Timmerman’s bed.

As word spread the rest of the Wyandotte community started to help in their own way. The hockey team organized a dinner and a golf outing to support the Timmermans. Other athletic teams held fundraisers including a bake sale to help as well.

“All through the support, it seemed like all of downriver was reaching out to me. You don’t really see that side of people or that sense of community until something like this happens,” Timmerman said.

“I was taken back by it.”

Timmerman went through his first round of chemotherapy three days after his diagnosis. Even though he was able to eat, and play Call of Duty with a friend that stopped by, the road Jake had to take wouldn’t be easy.

When he started his second cycle, which included rounds three and four of his therapy, the process became more challenging.

“I started to get sick, and couldn’t hold anything down,” he said. “I wanted to eat so badly. After that, I got so mad at the situation. I couldn’t even look at the nurse as she was administering the dosage.

“If I tried to eat, my body would start to reject it. It was really tough. In your head, you know what is getting pushed through your body. It’s a lot to take in, but it was for a reason. You had to focus on the why.&