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Toddler loses cancer fight

Jackson Grabow, 2, of McHenry passed away Sunday after battling a rare brain tumor disease that was diagnosed Dec. 31.
Jackson Grabow, 2, of McHenry passed away Sunday after battling a rare brain tumor disease that was diagnosed Dec. 31.

McHENRY – Jackson Grabow was a bubbly little boy who always smiled and loved to watch “Star Wars” – even as he battled pediatric cancer.

Grabow unexpectedly lost that battle Sunday night. He was 2.

“We are at peace knowing he’s in a better place now and he’s in Heaven watching over us,” said his mom, Donna Grabow. “It’s so hard not to go to the negative and go, ‘I’m so angry, I’m so mad.’ ... but we both feel that we gave him the best life that we knew how as his mom and dad.”

Doctors discovered that Jackson, of McHenry, had a brain tumor Dec. 31. His mom and his dad, Brandt, had been taking him for treatment at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where he was undergoing chemotherapy after having a ping pong ball-sized brain tumor removed this year.

Despite the surgery, doctors recently discovered that he still had cancer cells in his spinal fluid.

Jackson was admitted to Children’s on Saturday, and died Sunday about 8:30 p.m.

“It was a shock,” said his great aunt, Carolyn Sundberg. “It came quite suddenly. We’re just taking it hour by hour.”

The tumor, which has no known cause, was part of a cancer called medulloblastoma. Cases of it are extremely rare, and according to Web MD, there are only 11⁄2 to two cases of medulloblastoma per 100,000 people, with 350 new cases arising in the United States each year.

Donna Grabow said the family decided to let Jackson die in peace after it was clear that he would not be able to recover from the complications he experienced when he had bruising and swelling of his brain.

“We just knew in our heart of hearts that doing anything else would be delaying the inevitable,” she said. “It was the toughest thing we ever had to do but we decided to let him pass in dignity.”

The family then was able to hold him in their arms during his final moments.

“He was ready ... to stop fighting,” Grabow said.

Becky Fischer, a registered nurse who worked with Jackson and his family during the past few months, said he was a courageous boy who fought hard.

“He brought a smile to everybody’s face that walked into the room,” she said. “He had more personality than you can imagine.”

Although only 2, Jackson touched many in the community.

Students at McHenry West learned of Jackson’s battle with cancer when they volunteered at the KinderCare across the street, where Jackson’s parents work.

They were so touched by his story that they recently hosted an event to raise money for the Grabow family and increase pediatric cancer awareness. They raised $3,500 for the family by shaving their heads.

After hearing the news Monday, students made cards for the Grabow family and a counseling office was open so that they could be supported as they grieved for Jackson.

“It’s been a tough day,” said Carl Vallianatos, assistant principal at McHenry West High School. “We had a great many students that were very, very attached to Jackson and his cause.”

The visitation for Jackson will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Justen Funeral Home & Crematory of McHenry. A celebration memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church, 404 N Green St., McHenry.

• Northwest Herald reporter Diana Sroka contributed to this article.

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