Neighbors form foundation after boy's cancer fight


GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) — For residents living in the Wakefield subdivision, it wasn't uncommon to see a bright green blur go rushing down the sidewalk.

That meant that Wesley Jaeger, dressed in his favorite green hat, was out playing. That hat became his trademark, and neighbors would watch him run around the backyard or ride his bike out front.

The Center Grove area boy seemed to have a perpetual smile, and his laughter would echo off garage doors as he played.

"He was a very happy boy regardless of what he was going through. He brought a very positive aspect to the people who he was around, not only for their family, but for everybody who was around for that process," said Matt Nelson, Wesley's next-door neighbor.

The past four years, that laughter became less and less common. Wesley was struggling with a brain tumor, going through chemotherapy, radiation and repeated treatments to try to cure it.

He died Aug. 19.

To honor the boisterous spirit that the 8-year-old boy embodied, Nelson and his sister, Lyndsey, have established a research foundation aimed at ending childhood cancers, the Daily Journal reported ( ).

Matt and Lyndsey Nelson, along with the support of the Jaeger family and countless friends and businesses, have raised nearly $4,000 to end the type of brain cancer that Wesley struggled with. In that way, they can honor his memory.

"From day one, we've been utterly and completely impressed with everything they've done," said Lisa Jaeger, Wesley's mother. "I know having been in high school, I never would have thought of doing anything that they have. The way they've gone about it, we've been so touched."

The Nelsons grew up next door to the Jaegers. They shared backyard barbecues, watched each other's houses and mowed the lawn when the other was on vacation.

Both Matt Nelson, 19, and Lyndsey Nelson, 16, can picture young Wesley running around the neighborhood.

On sunny afternoons, he would set his toy race cars up on their sloped driveway. He would let them go at the same time, letting them race to the bottom.

Neighborhood children waited at the bottom to grab the cars and return them to where Wesley was waiting.

"He was so sweet. He had the cutest blue eyes," Lyndsey Nelson said.

Wesley was diagnosed with metastatic medulloblastoma, a tumor attached to his brain stem, in 2008. Matt and Lyndsey Nelson felt it was only right to step up and help.

Lyndsey Nelson came up with the idea. At the time, it was meant to help with medical costs and transportation for the Jaegers.

But in speaking with the Jaegers, it became clear that it would mean more to help research a cure. The family already was heavily involved in causes such as CureSearch for Children's Cancer and had focused their own attention on studies of medulloblastomas throughout the country.

"From the very beginning, they were always like, 'Don't focus on us. Focus on finding a cure.' They're still like that," Lyndsey Nelson said.

The emphasis would be extended to other children just like Wesley who were suffering from a childhood cancer.

With the help of his parents, Matt Nelson investigated setting up a nonprofit foundation. He met with local banks to determine the best interest rate for the account and what ways it could easily be managed.

Finally, Wesley's Cure for Cancer Foundation was created.

"It's the only way to find a cure, and that's the only thing I care about," Lisa Jaeger said.

During more than four years, Wesley endured numerous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer had all but disappeared over two years of treatment, but he relapsed in 2010. The family tried clinical trials in New York, Tennessee and Indianapolis, showing some progress but never being able to fully beat back the disease.

The final oncologist that Wesley saw was Dr. Giselle Sholler, a specialist in pediatric brain tumors working at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich. Although she ultimately couldn't prevent the cancer from growing, her demeanor and dedication impressed the Jaegers.

"She doesn't ever give up. When she's your kid, you really want her on your side," Lisa Jaeger said. "Any time a kid gets diagnosed with cancer, you just don't want it to happen to anyone else."

Initially, proceeds from Wesley's Cure for Cancer Foundation went to Keller Laboratory, an Oregon-based lab researching the same kind of pediatric brain tumor Wesley had. But once Wesley started receiving treatment at the Van Andel Institute, Matt Nelson suggested supporting it instead.

Both Duane and Lisa Jaeger agreed.

"Dr. Sholler has a lot of passion for what she does. She gives out her personal cellphone. She's extremely accessible and is just a really neat individual," Lisa Jaeger said. "Even though she wasn't able to cure Wesley, we've been so impressed with what she's done in her field."

The foundation has started small, focusing on a series of donations and fundraisers to build a research fund.

Events have included restaurant nights out, where a portion of proceeds from eateries such as Pinocchio's Original Italian Ice Cream, Monacle's Pizza and Applebee's is donated to the foundation. Bob's Tu Your Door Pizza hosted a bake sale that raised more than $700.

"His parents are so passionate about finding a cure and raising awareness. His family was so focused around this disease, and now they have to live with it for the rest of their lives," Matt Nelson said. "I'd like to see the time come where children and their families don't have to deal with what they went through."

Over time, Matt Nelson has reached out to other foundations, joining forces for other childhood cancers to try to make a larger impact. A campaign is under way to get Major League Baseball and the National Football League to recognize pediatric cancer just as they've done for breast cancer.

Matt Nelson is currently applying to achieve 501c3 status, filling out the federal paperwork needed to reach that mark.

While the Jaegers have been the inspiration of the foundation, it has been up to Matt Nelson to oversee it. He has organized fundraisers, maintains a Facebook page, Web site and the CaringBridge site that documented Wesley's battle.

"It's really hard for me to post on there anymore. So I've turned it over to him," Lisa Jaeger said. "We've been really blessed to have them as neighbors."


Information from: Daily Journal,

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