On July 21, a kid named Gauge rang a bell.
It wasn’t just any bell. The now-seven-year-old didn’t get a big, new loud addition for his bike, or have a new alarm clock in the morning for school. This was The BELL for cancer survivors, something the young Gauge took down this summer. A story that carried many chapters: including dozens of hospital visits, exams, and setbacks.
The villain in Gauge’s world was Stage 3 Group 3 Rhabdomyosarcoma of the prostate. But before we get into all of that, let me tell you how I know Jamie Thornton, and her son Gauge. It happened on Instagram, which may become a more common saying due to the shelter-in-place diet that 2020 has unexpectedly brought us.
My first contact with Jamie’s family came through the esteemed Adam G. Simon, a screenwriter badass who has a big enough heart for two chest cavities. When Simon posted a link on his Instagram to a Go Fund Me page, I just had to read the story and donate something. Any fight against cancer should have enough legs to fill up a Walmart parking lot.
The Go-Fund-Me post, organized by Aubrey Mark, gave a detailed account of what happened to Gauge. He was six years old when he was experiencing difficulty using the bathroom. By the time doctors found the tumor in his bladder. Stage 3 Group 3 rhabdomyosarcoma was the known nemesis. Group 3 meant it had already metastasized into the bladder. According to Jamie, they had to rush to get treatment going, due to the undeniable fact that any time wasted decreased Gauge’s chances of survival.
In order for you to truly understand what Gauge was going through and how tough he is, you need to know about the radiation. Jamie and her ex-husband and Gauge’s father, Denny, were tasked with getting him to seemingly endless appointments. He would undergo 42 straight weekly treatments of chemotherapy and for five weeks, he was supposed to be sedated five days a week to endure radiation treatments. Sedation was required, but according to Jamie, Gauge toughed it because he hated being put to sleep. The sessions lasted a few minutes, and he never opted for sedation once in those 35 days.
To put it simply, they had a big mountain to climb and I fell hard for their predicament. Upon connecting with Jamie and Gauge via social media, I was thrust into the fight along with them. Every day, Jamie would give her followers a report about what Gauge was doing, fighting, or what the prognosis was. A sheer display of brute strength from a woman trying to balance a family, job, and an uncertain future.
If you read Thornton’s Instagram profile bio, you get an idea of how exactly zen and cool this woman is: “Mom of beautiful boys, Love is my religion, Access Consciousness Bars Practitioner, Yoga lover.” There’s a good chance she’s taken a lot more hits than you or I have in life, and she still puts on a smile and digs her feet into the ground.
I think that aspect of the fight against cancer isn’t talked about enough. Parents of kids fighting a disease that doesn’t have a clear path to recovery, one that can beat a person to their knees if they let it. The parent may not have the condition, but since they are tough as nails and willing to stand in front of their child, it’s as if they are in the same boat battling the shark. Most moms wouldn’t be able to transmit their struggle and fight to the world like Thornton and another lovely mother of a cancer survivor, Becky Schlereth (Team Colin!), would. Cheers to them.
For Jamie and Gauge, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital is where most of the IG posts originated from. It was exams, procedures, waiting, more exams, and constant updates. Most of them would include a detailed yet hopeful outlook at what Gauge was dealing with. After all, there are two types of rhbdomyosarcoma-Embryonal and Alveolar-and Gauge had the former, which is known to be the lesser of the two evils. Her posts never shied from the rigors of cancer’s wrath, but Jamie also instilled hope in her reader as well as her kid. It was earlier this summer when things started to turn around.
I was ready for it, because Gauge is such a strong-minded and charismatic kid, cancer couldn’t possibly keep him down. In a May 28 post where he was sitting up in a hospital bed after having a catheter placed, the young man was painting. If wanting to do arts and crafts after having a catheter put in doesn’t show you how tough the kid is, I don’t know is. An everlasting inspiration, Gauge got his last round of chemotherapy on June 19. As they were leaving the hospital that day, Jamie and Gauge heard numerous car horns laying it on in a celebration of survival. A chorus of hope for a kid who took the fight to cancer for years.
While the survival rate for young kids with rhabdomyosarcoma is often favorable (especially ones who are diagnosed with Embryonal, sitting between 50 and 70%, Gauge had stage 3 and the tumor metastasizing into the bladder cuts those odds significantly. But on July 21, he walked into that hospital and rang the bell. The bell of all bells. The cancer bell, a metaphorical way of saying Gauge had knocked it out and the referee was merely counting. Less than ten days later, he had to get tested (more than once) for COVID-19, which came back negative. After cancer had their piece of him, a virus tried to take him on and didn’t even last a single round.
Before he can even turn eight years old, Gauge’s win-loss record in life-threatening ordeals is just about perfect. The fight is never over for a kid like Gauge, but his story should inspire millions. A rare form of cancer beaten by a rare type of kid with a superhero mother. I found myself inspired by their life and fight, the loving and devoted mix of anticipation and joy in their activities and words, all from Thornton. It was like following someone’s diary posts about the fight of their life. Once again, if Gauge is facing it, so was Jamie. Denny was as well, but more behind the scenes than on IG. When attacks approach, the best families come together and beat it in numbers.
These days, Gauge is enjoying a cancer-free life. Jamie is giving him silver and vitamin C to keep him healthy and ready if cancer decides to walk back up the steps and knock on the door again. Along with her older son Trexler, this family is living free and strong. The best days are ahead, but the older ones have only empowered the future for this fine group of humans.
If we had more people like Gauge, young ones willing to fight for their future, and Jamie, a mother who never gave up, the world would be a better place. If there’s one thing that #TeamGaugereo has taught us, it’s that you are never truly out of the fight, no matter the stakes. If a seven year old can find the courage to push through a stage 3 cancer diagnosis, we can do better tomorrow. All of us.
Thanks for reading and keep the hope levels up,