By Carli Striker & Tom Wheadon
managing sports & managing feature
“Cancer is a word that no one wants to hear,” JMS math teacher Mark Juengel, the father of Mary Juengel, said. “So when all of a sudden you hear it, it’s scary. No question.”
Around Oct. 19, eleven-year-old Mary Juengel began to feel sick. She had a low grade fever and was having trouble breathing. After a week of taking antibiotics, for what her pediatrician believed to be a sinus infection, Mary’s neck began to swell up.
“We didn’t understand what was going on,” Marni Juengel, Mary’s mother, said. “We went to Saginaw, and after an hour of being there she was diagnosed with lymphoma.”
The Juengels were immediately sent to the University of Michigan to see doctors about a large tumor which covered both of Mary’s lungs, her heart, and her carotid artery. Once they arrived, they learned that Mary did not have lymphoma, but instead, T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
“The bad part about T-cell is that it likes to come back,” Mark said. “That’s why she has to have treatment for two years.”
Less than twelve hours after this diagnosis, Mary had received a spinal tap and was beginning chemotherapy. She remained in the pediatric ICU at the University of Michigan for a week until the tumor began to shrink after daily chemo.
“I felt devastation and panic,” Marni said. “With this tumor, I didn’t know if this was going to suffocate her and I didn’t know if they could stop it.”
Over the following weeks, Mary was also subject to high doses of steroids which made her feel a wide array of negative emotions.
“She couldn’t sleep, she had night terrors, she was extremely anxious,” Marni said, “I would say she has a real sweet disposition and it put an edge on her.”
As of now, Mary has stopped taking the steroids and is participating in a research study. As part of the study, she is undergoing intensive treatment consisting of regular chemo and a new experimental drug.
“Even though it’s probably been most intense, we feel like that’s where God has placed her,” Marni said.
Mary’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment have changed the daily lives of the Juengel family. Mary has had to take the year off school, and Mark has had to make sacrifices when it comes to his work as a math teacher.
“There’s a new normal,” Mark said. “They say take one day at a time – but that’s not me. I like having things planned out. This has forced us to take one day at a time, and we cherish every day. We pray she wakes up feeling good and goes to bed feeling good.”
In addition, the disease has hindered Mary’s personal life. Mary, who was described by her mother as social, has been forced to stay home due to her compromised immune system.
“I can’t go out in public that much, can’t have friends over, or go to friends’ houses,” Mary said.
Mary believes one of the hardest parts of the whole process has been the physical sickness and hair loss, which her mother has had to gradually witness.
“It’s just really, really hard to see her struggle, have her hair fall out, her face all puffy and have to put a big needle in the middle of her spine,” Marni said. “Those kinds of things are really hard, but she doesn’t waiver. She doesn’t waiver at all.”
The Juengels attribute this strength to their unshaken faith and trust in God.
“We believe that God has big plans for Mary, no questions,” Marni said. “We just have to trust God knows what he’s doing.”
The Juengels also believe the prayers and efforts of the community have been a large factor in Mary’s wellbeing, as they have received hundreds of cards and messages from family, friends, and even strangers.
“We’re overwhelmed by it all,” Mark said. “It truly blows us away. We’re so thankful for everybody and their prayers.”
Almost 3,000 people have showed their support so far by joining the ‘TEAM MARY’ group on Facebook, and the movement has only grown from there. Countless Team Mary fundraising efforts have taken place since Mary’s diagnosis, with all of the money going towards the Juengel family. Such efforts include selling orange and pink ‘Team Mary’ t-shirts and wrist bands, holding sporting events, and more. However, to the Juengel family, the Team Mary effort means more than financial support.
“Obviously it’s been a huge help to offset our extra expenses – but it’s been as much of a financial support as a moral support to us,” Mark said. “It’s just knowing people care – it means a lot to us.”
One individual who is attempting to help with the cause is DHS senior Megan Dambro. Dambro has been selling hair tinsels on Holly Jolly days at Lil’ Pear Tree and donating profits and all tips to the Juengel family.
“I thought it would be a fabulous way to give back to a great cause,” Dambro said.
Dambro made just under $600 in donations the first week, and in total has donated $1,200.
“Supporting Mary helps me realize it’s always great to give back,” Dambro said. “She is a very inspirational little girl, and she could teach us all a thing or two.”
Sophomore Madison Mantyla, a family friend of the Juengels, also feels that Mary is an inspiration.
“Mary’s one of the most upbeat, kindest, funniest, most positive people I’ve ever met; and [the community effort] just shows me how much of an impact she has had on people she hasn’t even met,” Mantyla said. “She’s the only person I know who could get this many people to rally around her.”
Although the past few months have been difficult for the Juengels, the support from the community has greatly affected them.
“There hasn’t been a day since diagnosis where we both haven’t cried,” Mark said. “But I’ve cried as much about a card I’ve read, or something someone has said or done as much as being upset about what we’re dealing with. We trust in God, and he’s going to take care of her.”