By Brooke Eades
In September 2016, Jessica and Daniel Fritz sat down and listened as a doctor said four words that would change their lives forever – “Your child has cancer.”
Jessica knew that something was wrong with their then 6-year-old son Triton when, less than a week earlier, his skin began taking on a yellow tint. Fearing that there could be something wrong with his liver, Jessica brought him to the hospital to get his blood tested. Upon seeing the test results, their family doctor in Riverton knew something was wrong and told the Fritz family to take Triton to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It was there that they learned that their blue-eyed boy had Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a rare soft cell cancer that had attacked his liver. Triton is only the third child on record to have RMS form a tumor in this particular location. Triton immediately began chemotherapy treatments and underwent 27 rounds of radiation in the year following his diagnosis.
“Triton basically had to be his own guinea pig because there really were no identical cases out there,” explained Jessica. “Because of how rare it is, his treatments have been based on ‘similar situations.’ With the lack of information, his treatments have been a battle.”
In July of 2017, Triton’s test results showed no signs of RMS and the family excitedly went back to their Wyoming home. Then, on Christmas Eve, Jessica noticed that Triton’s eyes and skin had taken on a familiar yellow tint.
“I knew the cancer was back,” said Jessica. “But we wanted to wait until after Christmas before opening the door to the chaos that is childhood cancer.”
The day after Christmas the family headed to Salt Lake City where they learned that the cancer had returned. For the next year, Triton continued with treatments and underwent an exploratory surgery to see if the doctors could perform a liver transplant and remove and replace part of Triton’s pancreas. The doctors in Salt Lake City explained that there was nothing they could do.
“He just had so much life in him, so the idea of sitting there and letting the cancer take over his body was just too horrifying,” said Jessica. “When you know your kid is potentially dying, it breaks something in you. But it also makes you more determined and more intent on helping your kid fight the fight.”
Triton and his family did keep fighting. The Fritz family scoured the country to find a doctor who would be willing and able to perform the procedure. They found one at Georgetown University Hospital and, in November of last year, they traveled to Washington D.C. to check 8-year-old Triton into the hospital. He was put on the transplant list a week later.
“Now it’s a waiting game,” said Jessica. “We are embracing D.C., as best we can, as our temporary new home while we wait for an available liver and pancreas.”
Help from Jason’s Friends
When Jessica found out that Triton’s name had made it onto the transplant list, she called it a miracle. While Jessica is overjoyed that they have made it this far, she is quick to recognize that there were moments when she and Daniel were not sure whether they were going to be able to financially afford the journey.
Six months into Triton’s treatments, expenses were quickly piling up. With all of the back and forth trips out of state and the cost of lodging, the Fritz family was beginning to fall behind on their bills. With three other children back home, Jessica and Daniel starting to wonder how they were going to keep going.
“I didn’t know what we were going to do. We couldn’t afford anything with all the back and forth trips, and I was worried we were going to end up homeless,” said Jessica. “It’s a horrible thought that your kid could die because you don’t have enough money to get them where they need to be.”
And then Jason’s Friends Foundation stepped in. Jason’s Friends Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to Wyoming families who have children diagnosed with cancer or a brain or spinal cord tumor. Jason’s Friends helps with travel expenses (fuel, lodging, airfare, meals) and everyday living expenses (house and rent payments, car payments, phone bills, utility bills etc.) so that Wyoming families can focus on what is most important – their children.
“In all honesty, I don’t know where we would be without the help from Jason’s Friends,” said Jessica. “I don’t know how we would have been able to keep our home without their assistance.”
Bowl for Jason’s Friends
Talking to families who have received help from Jason’s Friends, similar stories and sentiments are echoed. When a child is diagnosed with cancer in Wyoming, the family is immediately forced to travel out of state to seek medical attention because there is not a primary cancer treatment center for children in Wyoming. By providing financial assistance, Jason’s Friends provides Wyoming families peace of mind, knowing that they will not have to worry about losing everything they own.
But Jason’s Friends cannot do it alone. Every year in March, they hold their primary fundraiser of the year – Bowl for Jason’s Friends.
This year, the 21st annual event will take place on March 2 at El Mark-O Lanes in Casper. Bowlers put together five-person teams, sign-up for a one-hour bowling time slot and collect donations prior to bowling. There are prizes available for those who bring in the most donations and a free t-shirt for every bowler who collects at least $75.
Team packets can be picked up at any First Interstate Bank, any Hilltop Bank, El Mark-O Lanes, the Jason’s Friends Foundation office at 340 W. B St., or at jasonsfriends.org.
Support from Afar
As the day of the bowling fundraiser approaches, Jessica, Daniel and Triton remain in D.C., waiting for a perfect match to provide Triton his new liver and pancreas. In between weekly chemo treatments, Jessica and Daniel try to give Triton every opportunity to enjoy just being an 8-year-old boy.
“Some days you are helping your kids be kids, and some days you are talking about heaven as if it’s just a room next door and that death is nothing to be scared of,” said Jessica. “As parents, we have to do our best to support our kids.”
While they won’t be able to make it to this year’s bowling fundraiser, Jessica urges her fellow Wyomingites to show their support for the event and for families like theirs.
“I encourage everyone to help out in any way they can,” said Jessica. “Jason’s Friends has been a tremendous blessing to us. There’s no way to put it into words.”