Jayden Bennett wasn’t thinking of himself the day before the cancer took his life.
After a family dinner in downtown Kuna, Jayden, 11, told his grandma he wanted to go shopping the next day, to buy some special Christmas presents for some of his favorite people.
“I told him, Jay, tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. Nothing’s open,” said Liz Kessinger, Jayden’s grandmother, noting the family already had plans for Friday: Jayden was scheduled drop the ceremonial first puck at the Idaho Steelheads game, and he was pretty excited about it.
But he didn’t get to shop, or go to the game.
Jayden died Nov. 22, Thanksgiving Day, when illness overcame him.
Jayden was a 7-year-old first-grader attending Indian Creek Elementary when he was diagnosed with cancer.
After complaining about pain in his leg, Jayden’s mom, Boni, scheduled a trip to the doctor for her son.
“That’s when the battery of tests began: an x-ray, MRI, bone scan, CAT scan, PET scan and eventually a biopsy. The news was not good: Jayden had cancer, specifically, osteosarcoma, a type of cancer of the bone, with a malignant tumor found on his femur,” wrote former Kuna Melba News editor Scott McIntosh in the May 2, 2009 edition of the KMN. “In addition, about 20 spots of cancer were found on his lungs and a spot on his spine. Doctors started Jayden on chemotherapy immediately, surgically implanting a port under his skin on the right side of his chest on April 7, with his first treatment that night.
Jayden went back into the hospital last week for another round of chemo. He was scheduled to come home for a couple of days this week, then back in the hospital for five days, home for two days, hospital five days, for a grueling 10 weeks of chemotherapy.”
McIntosh continued to follow Jayden’s story, and it was just the beginning for Jayden and his family, who would traverse three-and-a-half years of treatment, hope, side-effects, pain, love and an outpouring of support from the Kuna community and beyond.
Through it all, Jayden kept his head up and defied the odds.
When he was 8, Jayden was reportedly “in really good spirits, big time,” after having his left leg amputated.
“He’s doing great, he’s joking with the doctors, asking them all sorts of questions,” Kessinger told the KMN in August 2009. The cancer, by then, had also spread to his lungs and his back. Later, it would invade his liver, too.
Still, Jayden was always eager to accept and explore new opportunities.
He had a great time riding on a Kuna fire truck at a Kuna Days Parade, hung out with Ronald McDonald at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston, Texas, and climbed aboard a LifeFlight helicopter that arrived at Ross Elementary to pick him up.
After being inducted into the Treasure Valley Young Marines, Jayden was flown from Ross to Gowen Field, where he was given a personal tour and operated a flight simulator.
Around town, when word initially broke about Jayden’s illness, the community rallied, provided support, held fundraisers and collected thousands of dollars.
So, although the grieving family wasn’t up to talking this week, they did wish to express deep gratitude for the outpouring of support over the last three-and-a-half years.
“Everyone in Kuna has been just really amazing,” Kessinger said.
A Celebration of Jayden’s Life will be held at 6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 22, at the 4th Street Gym in Kuna. Additional details will be announced in the coming weeks.