By Jeff Odom
The two words engraved in a gray bracelet on Neena Pacholke’s wrist say it all — Freedom’s Survivor.
For the Freedom High senior, those words are closer to her heart than anything. She wears them every day in honor of her boyfriend Jordan Harris, who at age 15 was diagnosed with primitive neuroectodermal tumors, a rare brain cancer.
“I’ll never forget (when) I found out, it was the day before FCAT sophomore year,” Pacholke said. “(Harris) had to leave to go to his pre-op and his surgery and everyone was hugging him good bye. Then, that was it.”
Harris wasn’t sure what would happen, but he knew one person would be there — his girlfriend.
Pacholke began thinking of ways to raise money for Harris’ family. She custom ordered rubber bracelets and began selling them on campus for a dollar.
The support was overwhelming.
Soon, Harris’ condition began to improve after months of chemotherapy and surgeries. The cancer seemed to be in remission, but the news turned grim after a visit to the doctor for a checkup on Oct. 24.
The cancer had returned.
“From the first time I went through treatments to this time … having everyone here supporting me was a big help, a huge help,” Harris said. “Neena’s been the biggest thing, doing most of the things. I probably would have given up if it wasn’t for her.”
Pacholke put her second plan into action to raise more money for the family the day she received a text from Harris’ mom informing her that the cancer had returned.
She would visit Harris, often with friends, while he was receiving treatment at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Pacholke said they would play games like Monopoly for hours during the trips.
“They were the best times of the worst times,” Pacholke said.
Pacholke and her friend Paisley Petrey came up with the idea of a hat day at school where students would pay money to wear a hat to raise money and show support for her boyfriend of nine months.
“The day that he had the doctor’s appointment, I was in school and his mom had texted me and that’s when we found out (the cancer) came back,” Pacholke said. “We had a club period and one of the teachers, Ms. (Kathleen) Feldman, I went to her bawling my eyes out and we thought of stuff we could do, walked into (principal Dave) Sheppard’s office and got (the hat day) approved.”
The event, titled Snapbacks Against Brain Cancer, was Nov. 2 and became an instant hit as students all around school participated. The cause raised more than $700 for the family.
“It’s been really crazy,” Pacholke said. “Everyone got let out of class to take a big picture seventh period and his mom got to see it. Then, one of (Jordan’s mom’s) friends started a Facebook group and all of the people that he doesn’t know that support him it’s just really cool to see.”
Pacholke plans to continue fundraising to support Harris until he is finally cancer-free.
Harris had planned to play for the Patriots boys soccer team this year. He competed for Freedom as a freshman and sophomore, but the cancer kept him from the field last season.
Harris made the team this season but has been too sick to play in a game. He still dreams of one day returning to the soccer pitch.
“I don’t think playing (school) soccer is really still a big possibility because it’s my senior year and college is really professional about it, but I still want to do some college stuff for fun,” Harris said. “If nothing happened, I probably would have wanted to play college soccer on a scholarship, but it’ll all be about fun now.”
To support Harris, the Beef O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub at 1660 Bruce B. Downs Blvd in Wesley Chapel is hosting a fundraiser Dec. 6 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A portion of each bill will be donated to his cause, and a gift basket will be raffled off.
The Patriots girls basketball team, of which Pacholke is a member, will have a Go Grey event during the home game against district rival Steinbrenner Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. Grey bracelets will be sold and donations for Harris will be accepted at the door, and those in attendance are encouraged to wear grey to show their support for him.
In addition, You Say When Yogurt Shoppe at 17503 Preserve Walk Lane in New Tampa will have Jordan Harris night every Friday in December where part of each bill will go toward raising money for his family.
For more information and for ways to help, go to Facebook.com/SnapbackAgainstCancer.
–Editor Kyle LoJacono contributed to this report.
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