La Cueva sophomore Jenson makes major comeback from cancer

La Cueva High sophomore Tyler Jenson makes his first javelin throw of the day (below) during track and field action on Friday. Jenson is back in action after enduring cancer and chemotherapy. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Aside from the hair, which continues to grow out, and the scar near his right shoulder, which can only be seen when he’s shirtless, little evidence remains of Tyler Jenson’s cancer.

“It feels really good to be back where I was,” the 16-year-old La Cueva High School sophomore said.

Jenson last fall was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma. He spent nearly two weeks at University of New Mexico Hospital after the diagnosis and underwent several months of intrusive chemotherapy.

The update:

Last week he was declared to be in full remission.

“I’ve overcome it, and I’m as healthy as I was,” Jenson said in an interview earlier this week.

Not only is Jenson no longer being treated for his cancer, but he has returned to uniform for La Cueva, throwing the javelin for the Bears and running legs of the 4×100-meter relay.

“One of the greatest athletes I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and competing with,” said fellow La Cueva sophomore Brad Thomas, who on Friday ran a leg of the 4×100 with Jenson at the F.M. Wilson Invitational at Nusenda Community Stadium. “I think physically, he’s doing amazing.”

Jenson said he was brushing his teeth on a Saturday night last September when he spotted a significant lump near his right armpit.

“It was really strange,” he said.

Jenson had an ultrasound that Monday, but played in La Cueva’s junior varsity football game that evening.

La Cueva athlete Tyler Jenson’s head went bald during chemotherapy, and it proved to be a suitable surface to paint. (Courtesy Tyler Jenson)

A biopsy eventually revealed the cancer – serious enough to be pulled out of a La Cueva football practice so he could be admitted to UNMH, where he was a patient for 12 days.

By January, the chemotherapy was doing its job. By mid-April, Jenson said was told that his cancer was 94 percent eliminated, making him essentially cancer free.

He’s only been back on the track for a month; the port near his right shoulder, which facilitated the delivery of the many drugs into his system during chemo, left behind a small, approximately 2-inch scar.

But there are no more treatments. Just his short hair.

“I had pretty long hair,” Jenson said, smiling. “But it was pretty cool being bald. I tried putting on a football helmet – and it hurts bald.”

Jenson had played in most of La Cueva’s varsity games before his cancer diagnosis. During those nearly two weeks in the hospital, he was buoyed by countless visits from family, friends, teammates and coaches. Eventually, his silver La Cueva football helmet kept him company in his hospital room, as did his jersey.

“He was in a rough spot,” said friend and football/track teammate Colton Dukes. “But his whole way through his cancer experience, to us, it didn’t seem like it mattered to him. He seemed like the same guy.”

That guy has an affinity for snowboarding – something he did whenver he felt healthy enough during breaks in chemo; his mother Michelle showed the Journal video of her son doing flips on a Colorado slope – plus surfing and fishing.

“We tried to keep everything as normal as we could,” Michelle Jenson said.

And during his hospital stay, he proved to be somewhat rebellious. Jenson offered a wicked grin as he recalled sneaking out of his hospital room – his IV pole in tow – to go down to the parking garage. Hospital staff didn’t find that as amusing as he did.

Jenson was released from the hospital in time to see the Bears play rival Eldorado on Oct. 11, although that was the first night, he said, he really began to feel the effects of his chemo treatments. He said his legs couldn’t support his body. The drugs left him extremely fatigued. That night left him scared, which was new.

“I was trying to do everything I could to keep my body strong and not let those chemicals weaken me,” said Jenson, who described himself as both “super” low-key and energetic.

La Cueva’s football team wore “21” in gold numbers on their helmets during the final month of the regular season and all the way through the state final last December.

“That meant a lot. That touched me personally,” Jenson said of the gesture.

And he has a giant championship ring from last season, too.

“When we won,” Jenson admitted, “I didn’t feel part of it. (But) I’m really grateful I had the support of the team to help me get through everything. … My team, my family, and the community in general helped me fight for something greater than myself.”

Jenson isn’t yet qualified for state in the javelin, although he still has several meets – next week’s Richard Harper at Albuquerque Academy, the Albuquerque Metro Championships and his district meet – to throw the necessary distance.

He said he’s added 10 pounds to his frame in recent weeks; he said he didn’t lose any weight during chemotherapy.

Even as he re-integrates himself into athletics, Jenson is cognizant of the big picture. To that end, recently he did a presentation in his English class related to cancer awareness.

“I think I’m the same kid I was before, but a little more aware,” Jenson said. “People reached out to me, thanked me for sharing.”

And when classmates sought out his advice about something on their own bodies that seemed out of place, Jenson had one consistent piece of advice:

“Go get it checked out,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”

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