The Jay Jacunski Family
The Jay Jacunski Family Story

Jay was what you expect from a teenage boy – loved football, lacrosse, being a fireman, and, of course, making people laugh. Jay had a way of lighting up every room he walked into. Whether or not he wanted to be there – like school, he found a way to make people smile. Jay had a great desire to help others and did so by becoming a junior firefighter at our local volunteer department. The day he was old enough to join he went up and turned in his already completed application. If I had to describe Jay in a few words it would be brave, loving, strong, and wise. Jay was the second oldest sibling, and the oldest brother in the family. He fulfilled every role that a big brother should – poking fun at his younger brothers, showing them how to have fun with a pile of dirt and some camouflage, and of course, how to protect each other and love each other unconditionally. He had a “look at me go” attitude and did not let anyone step on him. He may have been little – but his large personality made up for it.

April 27, 2010, was the day that Jay was diagnosed with a type of lymphoma. It was the day that our family’s life was changed forever. The simple words “your son has cancer” changed the trajectory of our world. The moment you hear that your older or younger brother has cancer. Your head fills with questions. What does cancer mean? Will he be okay? Does this change how our family will live? The unfortunate truth is that there is no concrete answer to these questions. Jay was a 16-year-old gearing up to start summer practices for football, finishing his sophomore year of high school, and preparing to get his driver’s license. But now, he had to worry about what it meant to live with cancer.

Jay spent over 30 consecutive days in the hospital to treat his aggressive form of cancer. Over the summer, Jay went through additional treatment and had his ups and downs as expected. He became weak as the medication tore through his body – but it appeared to be working. Come September, there were only a few treatments left and the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight. Until it wasn’t…

October 22, 2010, the day that Jay lost the ability to move half of his face and the moment we learned that the cancer had spread to his brain. The light was gone, and there was no clear expectation of what was ahead. Jay was slowly losing his life and we had to stand there and watch him get poked and prodded, watch him suffer in immense pain, and watch the treatment weaken him even more.

Over the next 2 months Jay declined physically. He was on a ventilator to breathe for him and was barely able to communicate. However, he was still able to respond with small head movements as well as small changes to his heart rate and blood pressure. A moment that will live with me forever is holding my older brothers hand and saying “I love you,” then watching his vitals respond to me.

December 15, 2010 – the day a dark cloud engulfed our world. The day a 16-year-old from Lancaster, PA passed away from cancer. The day Jay passed away, after 7 months and 19 days.

My family does not have a happy ending or a celebratory ending. There is a dark reality of cancer that is not always seen – the reality of the pain and weakness brought on by treatment, the mental toll of sitting in a hospital for months at a time, and the sad truth that not everyone will make it through.

Jay is gone from this world – but because of THON and the work of Four Diamonds we have a space to celebrate the life of Jay and remember who HE was, and not what the cancer made him. Being a part of the THON community is hard as it is a constant reminder of what has been lost, but the support that has been received makes it feel a little less like a loss and more like the continuation of the life he had.

Through it all, Jay was still a big brother, a younger brother, a son, a cousin, and a friend. No matter what, he was still himself and still showed us all what it meant to be brave, loving, strong, and wise. Jay taught us how to live our lives and tell others to “Look at me go” while doing it. He will always be a brother, a son, a cousin, a friend, and now, a guardian angel.

“I carry your heart with me, I am never without it”

-EE Cummings