It was the end of May 2017, and Forest was finishing up 5th grade. He enjoyed playing baseball and loved all things outdoors, especially fishing and catching turtles (his favorite animal). As summer began, his mother Jenny noticed lumps on his neck. She took Forest in to have them looked at, and the doctors discovered he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a rapidly progressive form of blood cancer. Jenny and her husband Gary were devastated to hear their son’s diagnosis. “It is the worst news you can hear, that your child has cancer,” said Jenny.
Forest began treatment in Milwaukee, and just one week in, his parents made a crucial decision that would change his treatment experience for the entire family. They learned that everything Forest needed was already right here in Green Bay, their hometown, at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital.
“Having the opportunity for Forest to receive treatment 15 minutes away from home was a God send,” explained Jenny. “Being able to live a somewhat ‘normal’ family life while he battled cancer was such a blessing.” Forest underwent treatment close to home for three years and four months at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital. He persevered through many ups and downs during his battle with ALL.
Jenny and Gary kept a log of his procedures and medications. Over the course of his treatment plan, he received nine different types of chemotherapy, endured 27 spinal taps and spent 72 nights in the hospital. These hospital stays were for infections, low blood counts and side effects of chemotherapy. “If we had not made the decision to move Forest to Green Bay, we would have had to take significant time off work and live apart from the rest of our family for long periods of time,” said Jenny.
When chemo was hitting Forest the hardest, he received 26 red blood and 11 platelet transfusions. Forest ingested 5,251 pills, including steroids. During the hardest times of his treatment, Forest wished he could just get away and do things that "normal" kids could do. His ultimate dream was to someday visit the Galapagos Islands to see the giant tortoises in person. It was just a dream, but it gave him hope and strength to keep fighting on.
One of the most difficult times was during a month-long hospital stay to tend to his chest port where he was receiving chemotherapy, which led to Forest developing severe anxiety. That is when the Child Life team stepped in. They tailored a plan of care to fit his needs and eased his anxiety. “The Child Life team was wonderful,” Jenny added. They were very patient with Forest and the team's perseverance paid off. Shortly after his 13th birthday, something clicked, and Forest became more at-ease and stronger willed to push forward through his treatments.
Forest and his family began this journey in May 2017 when Forest was just 11 years old. After three years had gone by, and countless hospital visits, Forest received his last treatment at the age of 14 in September 2020. From the valet parkers to the nurses, cleaning staff, Child Life team and doctors at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital, every single person was extremely caring and genuine. “They really do feel like family,” said Jenny reflecting. “It felt strange leaving and walking away from the bonds we made during our time at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital.”
Forest is now living a normal life, and his wish to visit the Galapagos Islands finally came true five years after beginning his cancer treatment! Forest and his family took a trip to see the giant tortoises on the islands to celebrate Forest overcoming his journey as he won the battle against cancer. All the compassion and care that saved Forest’s life and helped his family through this journey, made the trip that much more special.