A year ago, Jack Cross was a standout player for the Colleyville Covenant Christian Academy football team. Now, just standing up is sometimes a challenge.
Jack is battling a a rare form of cancer known as bifocal intracranial germinoma, which means developing several tumors in the brain. His days of playing wide receiver and defensive back for the Cougars are over. Now he’s in the contest of his life — for his life.
The treatments are going well, but it is cancer, after all. The very mention of the word can bring the strongest person to his knees.
But not Jack.
“You just have to figure it out and fight it,” Jack said. “You can’t just sit back and let the cancer win.”
Jack and his family know a thing or two about battling the most challenging adversity. His cancer diagnosis in the spring is only the latest in a series of tragedies for the family.
In 2014, on senior night, Jack’s older brother Collin pulled off a rare feat, scoring a touchdown on a turnover as a defensive lineman. His father, Randy Cross, was in the stands and flashed a thumbs-up to head coach Rick Jackson on the sidelines.
It was the last time Randy Cross saw his son play. Two days later, on a fishing trip with Jack in Wisconsin, he suffered a fatal heart attack as Jack watched.
“When I heard Randy died, it was such a shock,” Jackson said. “To see that dad so happy, then to get that call on Sunday, I cried. Then, just a couple years later, even more bad news for the family.
“Randy was a really fit guy, and he was only 53. He was a great volunteer for the school, always there for whatever we needed. He pulled the equipment trailer for years.”
Collin began to abuse drugs following his father’s death. Last spring, after the family thought he had beaten the problem, he returned to school at the University of Colorado and was later found dead as a result of an overdose.
Shortly after came the news about Jack’s cancer.
“I have two sons. I can’t imagine having to bury one of them,” Jackson said. “And then Jack gets sick.
“The mom [Sheila Cross] is a warrior. That family has been through so much, and she’s been so strong for all of them.”
Sheila said she believes in the old adage that the Lord will not give a person more than they can handle. However, she adds that her slate is full and she hopes he has nothing else for her to take on.
“Apparently I’m one of those pretty strong people. I don’t always feel that way,” she said, forcing a smile.
Despite his circumstances, it is Jack who helps provide strength for her when she doesn’t feel that way.
“Jack is the sweetest, kindest young man you’ll ever meet, and he keeps all of us positive in spite of what he’s going through,” she said. “He’ll say something to make us laugh at just the right time we need to hear it.”
The team has made Jack an honorary captain this season. Though it is tough for him to make games (he did recently attend one), they carry his jersey out to midfield for the pregame coin toss. They also keep it draped across the bench during the game.
“That was his teammates’ decision,” Jackson said. “They want Jack there with them.”
Chemotherapy sessions weaken Jack’s immune system and limit his ability to interact with other people. He has one more chemo session scheduled in mid-October before beginning four to six weeks of radiation treatment.
Through it all his friends are there to offer support, in person when they can and in spirit always.
“It helps a lot,” Jack said. “I try to stay positive, but there are moments when you just feel down, and knowing they are there is uplifting.”
Krystal Maldonado has known Jack since sixth grade. She said Jack’s optimism through the ordeal is inspiring.
“He’s not selfish at all. Considering everything he’s been through, it’s amazing,” she said. “In our Bible class we were discussing suffering and Jack came to mind. They [the family] don’t allow the suffering to destroy them, but rather it draws them closer to God.”
Jack’s best friend and teammate, Seth Keller, fought back tears as he described their friendship and how he wishes he could do more to help.
“I’ve always been there with him and he’s been there for me,” he said. “He’s given me strength.
“Jack has been so strong. I don’t believe I would handle it as well as he has. He just believes he’s going to get better, and he’s hanging onto that positive attitude.”
Seth said he will help Jack get caught up on his school work when the time comes. Jack is hoping to return to school in late October or early November, depending on the effects of the radiation treatment.
Jack said the hardest part has been the side effects of the chemo treatments.
“I had a week of vomiting, even during the night,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, even though I needed to keep my strength up.
“My mom has been the biggest help. When I wake up in the middle of the night, she’s always there.”
Jack’s other older brother, Jordan, said the success rate for recovery is 95 percent with the protocol Jack is undergoing. However, the expensive treatment is also a challenge for the family.
Jack had 62 tests done in an eight-day hospital stay, for example. Also, Sheila said one form of medication costs over $5,000 for a 30-day supply, and one shot cost $5,500.
Jack has started a GoFundMe web site with a goal of $75,000. At last check, he had raised almost $50,000.
Also, the school is selling bracelets to raise money. They have written on them “JC4 tough. Be strong & courageous,” outlined by footballs and crosses.
Jack, Collin and Jordan all wore No. 4.
Jordan joined the Cougars as an assistant coach this season. The plan was to coach his younger brother, but even when it was learned Jack could no longer play, he stayed on board.
“I had already made the commitment, and Jack wanted me to coach,” Jordan said. “I’m glad I decided to go ahead.
“I feel like in a short time we’ve endured more than most families do over the course of a lifetime. What else could happen? So, you continue to work hard, fight every day, and try to get as much out of life as you can.”
This story has been corrected.