Middleton teen battles rare cancer, hopes to walk again

Middleton teen battles rare cancer, hopes to walk again
Jackson Pagel

Nine months into battling the rare bone cancer osteosarcoma, which left him with a newly reconstructed left leg, Middleton High School freshman Jackson Pagel is determined to walk again.

“It’s definitely not easy, but you need hope to get through it, and get through the tough days, so you can have good days,” Pagel said. “I think whatever you’re going through, something that’s similar to what I’m going through, you need some sort of inspiration to know that it’s possible to get through it.”

Out of all the sports Pagel has ever played, basketball is his favorite.

“It’s just nice being not confined and being able to run,” Pagel said.

While the modest 15-year-old does not talk about his room full of trophies, medals, plaques and awards, they are proof Pagel’s consistently been identified as one of the state’s top young athletes as well as symbolic homage to what should have been the beginning of a great high school career.

Running brings that trademark smile to Pagel’s face, but when he was running during an October soccer game, he noticed a life changing pain in his left leg.

“Like there was a bruise,” Pagel said. “Or it just felt like a normal getting kicked in the shin, I guess.”

Because of the quickly approaching Middleton High School basketball team tryouts, where his friends had a gut feeling he had a great chance of making the junior varsity team, Pagel knew he had to get the injury checked out.

“I don’t really see it as not being fair. It’s part of life. It’s something some people have to go through and some people don’t,” Pagel said.

Pagel has been through months of chemotherapy, surgery complications and the removal and reconstruction of his tibia.

“I guess I remember just feeling sad. And just thinking about all the things I wouldn’t be able to do anymore,” Pagel said. “I don’t think they know exactly what I’ll be able to do, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to run again. And I’m hoping jump.”

Pagel credits his optimistic attitude to the tremendous amount of support he has received, including from his Middleton High School freshman basketball teammates.

“They told him he couldn’t play basketball anymore. So we started this team. Team J-Pagel, so he could still be with us on the court,” teammate and friend Casey McKean said.

On the court, with Jackson in their hearts, the team also carried the Japanese saying, Ganbatte, with them, which loosely translates into many sayings having to do with one keeping up their spirits. As a YouTube video showed, 29 of Pagel’s friends used the spirit of Ganbatte as a symbolic gesture of solidary when they shaved their heads.

“Ganbatte has kind of followed me throughout this whole thing,” Pagel said. “It’s a word my dad uses a lot when he sees me going through a hard situation or a hard time.”

Jim Pagel said in some sort of wonderful way, his son’s ability to minimize cancer’s pain brings him hope.

“He’ll do fine. He will do fine,” Jim Pagel passionately said of his son’s prognosis. “He’s always been that way. He’s just tough.”

Tough as Ganbatte, Jackson Pagel is determined to walk again.

“It’ll be really, really nice when I can walk again. And do most of the things I was able to do before,” Jackson Pagel said with tears running down his face. “I can give up basketball and soccer. But definitely want to be able to run and bike and swim.”

Jackson Pagel feels his example makes it possible for anyone struggling to know reaching the type of freedom he knows his legs will one day bring him again is distinctly possible.