After several rounds of antibiotics and a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist, Josh received a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma — cancer.
Karen and Josh made the trip to the University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington with Josh’s father, Gary, and his sister, 27-year-old Alina. Karen said she and her husband were devastated and in shock and depended on the guidance of Alina.
“She kicked into some kind of a different gear and took over,” Karen said. “We got to UK, and she led us around. She said, ‘We need to go here to get chest X-rays, and we need to go here to get blood work.’ She just took over.”
The boy preparing for his seventh-grade year was getting lots of tests but wasn’t sure exactly what was going on until his parents told him at home he had cancer.
“I remember them telling me one night, and I remember sitting up in my bed the rest of the night trying to cry myself to sleep, thinking I was going to die,” Josh said. “I was 12, and that’s what I thought happened; I didn’t understand it.
“I don’t even recall what I thought of when I went through the treatments or what the doctors said; I don’t think I paid much attention to it. After that night, I tried to let it go, but I’m sure in the back of my mind, that stayed with me most of the time; I didn’t really think you live from cancer at age 12.”
Josh began chemotherapy, and he and his mother said the care at UK was excellent. But a big part of his treatment away from the hospital was a new addition to the household; he had wanted a puppy for a long time.
“When he got sick and couldn’t seem to quite snap out of it, I said, ‘Let’s go get a puppy,’” Karen said. “So we went and got a puppy dog that was a distraction, something different in our house, something new that would put our attention in a different direction and we could focus on something else besides sitting around thinking about treatments and everything Josh was going to have to go through.”
The Jack Russell puppy was named Kobe and kept the family’s attention.
“He stayed like a puppy, so he stayed a distraction the entire course of the year that he was with us; we really loved him,” Josh said.
After six months of chemo and three weeks of radiation treatment, the most intense part of the battle was over.
“He went into remission, and he has been ever since,” Karen said. “He’s actually considered past remission after five years, but he still goes back for wellness visits at UK.”
While the medical treatments were over, Josh’s struggles were not.
“That’s one thing most people don’t realize; it really sets you back, not just physically but mentally,” Josh said. “You literally have to relearn life up to a point, I think. Most people don’t realize it; they think you beat it, you get done with it, and then you go right back to normal. It took me probably a year just to regain my strength and learn to get up and do life every day.”
The disease and subsequent treatment changed Josh’s body, bulking him up to around 270 pounds in his senior year of high school. It was then that fellow East High student Aaron Milling stepped in and offered more than just encouragement to lose the weight.
“We had become good friends by the end of the year, and he said, ‘I can help you get rid of that,’” Josh said. “No one had ever actually said that; they always said, ‘You should lose weight.’ He said, ‘I’ll help you get rid of it; I’ll be there to help you and guide you.’”