André (Tré) Jenkins is used to be being surrounded by an entourage. It’s a lesson he learned from his grandmother, Janice Jenkins -- surround yourself with positive people, because when times are tough and you’re falling apart, those people will hold you together.
And although he’s only 16 years old, Tré knows how to cope with tough times. He’s a hard-working student who keeps himself on his high school honor roll. He lives with diabetes, which requires daily management. And in 2016, he fought for his life in a battle against a rare, aggressive cancer called Burkitt lymphoma.
Tré’s struggle with cancer began in March 2016, when he woke up one day with pain in his left knee.
“I didn’t know what was wrong, but it was very painful. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain was a 10,” said Tré.
He lives with his grandparents in Savannah. Janice took him to a doctor who suggested it might be growing pains. But the pain didn’t subside. Over the next three months, Tré tried heating pads, crutches, and a leg brace that stretched from his ankle to his hip. Nothing relieved the pain. His doctor ordered an X-ray, followed by a CT scan. Tré and Janice were driving home from the CT scan when the doctor asked them to turn around and come back to his office. As Janice and Tré sat in his office, the doctor told them the pain was caused by cancer creating a hole in Tré’s knee. Janice was shocked.
“Tré looked right at me. I was trying to hold myself together for him. At that moment, I knew I would never go to another doctor’s appointment alone. We would always have someone with us. Since that day, we always travel with uncles, aunties, parents, friends, or cousins,” said Janice.
Tré’s supporters were there when he learned that Burkitt lymphoma is a fast-growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma that began in his body’s lymphatic system. They worked together to decide where he should go for treatment. The family considered hospitals in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But before making a decision, they met with Andrew Pendleton, M.D., and Martin Johnston, M.D., pediatric hematologist/oncologists, and Amanda Crosby, R.N., at the Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah. The family was impressed by the amount of time the doctors and nurses spent answering their questions, listening to their concerns, and offering support. They decided Tré should receive treatment right here in Savannah.
Treatment began in August 2016 with intensive chemotherapy. John Whittle, M.D., another pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the Memorial Health Willett Children’s Hospital, met with the family to explain what would happen during chemotherapy. The information overwhelmed Tré and he broke down crying. That’s when the entourage stepped in. Janice asked the men in the family to talk to Tré and let him know that it’s normal to be afraid. Whittle also spoke up.
“Dr. Whittle said, ‘Tré, this is one of most important things you’ll ever do. It’s ok to cry and to be scared.’ Then he told us about some difficult things he’s been through in his life. That was a defining moment for us. We knew we were in the right place,” said Janice.
Tré stayed at the Memorial Health Willett Children’s Hospital for each dose of chemotherapy and returned home between treatments. When he was in the hospital, he and his cousins enjoyed hanging out in a teen room where they could play Uno or checkers, watch movies, or play video games.
At home, his grandmother cared for him and the entourage cared for her. Janice recognized when Tré was feeling down and would do little things to boost his spirits, such as ask a favorite teacher to visit him, or encourage him to go outside for fresh air. She also relied heavily on her nurse navigator, Amanda Crosby.
“I fell apart in Amanda’s arms many times. She would sit and talk with me for a long time. She always said, ‘trust me to handle that, I’m the navigator,’” said Janice.
Throughout the treatment process, the Jenkins entourage laughed, cried, and prayed together on a regular basis. Their presence was invaluable to the teenager.
“A bulk of Tré’s inner strength came from seeing his grandfather, father, and uncle praying over him as he went into surgery, when he was quite fearful,” said Janice.
Tré completed treatment on December 19, 2016. He continues to have follow-up scans and tests, but he feels great. His entourage is still available whenever he needs them, and Janice would not have it any other way. She is forever grateful for the support she received.
“We appreciate every gesture, every thought, every prayer, and every single person who had a hand in taking care of us,” said Janice.