The Jesse King Family
The Jesse King Family Story

Meet the King Family! Jeff and Wendy are parents of Jerrett and Jesse King. Jerrett is a recent grad from The University of Alabama. He is currently an Aerospace Engineer with Lockheed Martin in Orlando. His younger brother, Jesse, started school at Penn State in 2019. Jesse comes from a Penn State family, as his parents are both Penn State alumni, and avid Penn State sports fans. When Jesse came to Penn State, he earned a spot on the Penn State Club Volleyball team where his family continued to cheer on the Nittany Lions in another sport.

The King Family has been involved with Penn State THON for many years, reaching back to 1986 when Wendy King danced in THON back in the White Building. Wendy continued to stay involved with Four Diamonds as she supported Jerrett and Jesse’s involvement with Cumberland Valley Mini-THON. Throughout High School, Jesse was a member of the Finance Committee, led the line dance for Mini-THON, and acted as the Nittany Lion for the Mini-THON pep rally! When Jesse came to Penn State, he dedicated his time to volunteering through his organization, Club Volleyball Benefiting THON and served as the Primary Chair for THON 2021. Following THON Weekend 2021, Jesse expressed his aspirations to dance and to continue his Chair position.

On March 10, 2021, just weeks after THON Weekend, Jesse went home for a routine procedure and went into cardiac arrest. When they got him into the ER, they found a 20 cm mass in his chest and Jesse had to be airlifted to Hershey. They were able to stabilize Jesse that night, and the next morning he went in for a biopsy. Shortly after, Jesse was then diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In less than 48 hours since the cardiac arrest, Jesse had already started chemotherapy and started treatment. Due to Jesse’s unstable condition, along with such sudden diagnosis, Wendy King talks about how even though “he was being treated for the cancer, it wasn’t where our focus was… We weren’t certain if he was going to make it, so we had to be focused on keeping him alive.” Jesse was on life support for 5 weeks and each day was a roller coaster. He was finally taken of ECMO and the Ventilator by the end of week 5. It wasn’t until the 4th cycle of chemotherapy (Day 84) when the King family was finally able to shift their focus on beating his cancer and rehabilitation. Jesse had to re-learn how to eat, walk, talk and all necessary life functions.

A day into their journey, as Wendy was in the ICU, Jesse’s hematologist said he received a call from Four Diamonds and that they were going to come to see them. They signed up right away and didn’t even think Jesse was eligible for Four Diamonds since he was 20 and was on the adult side of hematology, not pediatrics. Little did they know that 22 is the cutoff.

The King Family are no stranger to THON and Four Diamonds. Wendy and Jeff are avid cyclists and have done a lot of fundraising for the Leukemia/Lymphoma society over the years. Wendy danced in THON when she was a student, her kids were involved in Mini-THON and Jesse was the Primary THON Chair for Club Volleyball. “Talk about coming around full circle, and the irony of it all. We have a whole new perspective on it.”

Jesse continued treatment through the Summer and Fall of 2021. He had his last chemo treatment on July 2nd, at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. However, they did not get the full response they expected and had to continue radiation in October at University of Maryland Medical Center. Jesse endured 23 radiation treatments, and had to drive to Baltimore for each treatment. His final radiation treatment was on November 8, 2021, where he was able to ring the bell!

Though Jesse finished his chemo and radiation treatments, the journey was nowhere near complete. Jesse suffered an anoxic(oxygen deprivation) brain injury when he coded. He would have to re-learn all life skills – walking, talking, eating, writing.

After Jesse was discharged, he spent many weeks in Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy as he had to relearn all these life skills. He is currently in many other therapies to help with his neuro-cognitive function, such as Music Therapy, Muscle Activation Therapy, Cognitive and Vision Therapies along with Transcranial Magnetic Therapy. This is his full-time job and he continues to make forward progress each day.

“Four Diamonds has been so wonderful since day One. When you look at our journey it wasn’t the “normal” course… and we have never seen a medical bill. It’s stressful enough on families to deal with a cancer diagnosis of their child. Add the stress of financial worry on top of the fear of survival, it’s devastating. Four Diamonds ensures a bill is never seen, and that relieves a significant weight off of every family, ensuring their priorities can be placed on the treatment and care of their child. Not only does Four Diamonds provide financial assistance in the way of medical care, but they also help with lodging, gas, food, outpatient therapies and many other “hidden” charges.

The Kings were paired with Club Volleyball this past year, and it seems to be another full circle moment that Jesse was the Primary THON Chair, and now the organization’s paired family. Club Volleyball is Jesse’s family, no matter what. They ensure that they stay in touch all the time and even had Jesse meet all the new members of the team. They have frequent dinners and will do anything they can to support Jesse and his family.

Each day, Jesse demonstrates incredible courage. According to Wendy King, “Jesse represents the Diamond of Courage. When I looked up the root word in Latin for courage it is COR=HEART. Jesse has so much heart/courage to continue to fight every day overcoming each adversity thrown at him. And he will win over it all based on the courage and strength he has!!”

For families beginning their cancer journey, Wendy offers this advice: “Lean on your support. It’s amazing how many family and friends want to help, so let them. This is not the time to be proud – you will be exhausted and scared and that’s ok. Your Army will be there to pick you up!”