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Riverheads senior embraced by community after leukemia diagnosis

Riverheads senior embraced by community after leukemia diagnosis

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Less than 10 weeks ago on Sept. 13, Riverheads High School senior Jeremiah Hughes heard the news nobody wants to hear this year: he had COVID-19.

After a month, something wasn’t right. Jeremiah still had a fever and was struggling with low energy levels and appetites.

Bobbi Hughes, his mother, continued to advocate for further testing. She knew the length of the symptoms was not normal even while dealing with a virus the world does not fully understand. Eventually, they met with a hematologist on Oct. 6 who tried to explain the symptoms as COVID-19, but blood tests were taken anyway.

“Finally, Dr. Raybon agreed to do some more testing on Jeremiah, and he discovered within two hours that Jeremiah has leukemia,” Bobbi said. “I was just going off a mother’s gut. It was just this nagging feeling, and he wasn’t acting like himself.”

Soon after his diagnosis, Jeremiah began treatment at the University of Virginia Medical Center, but before Jeremiah departed for Charlottesville, his community met him in his time of need. Amy Huffer, a family friend, asked if it would be OK if members of their church came to pray for Jeremiah.

Because of Jeremiah’s health, they were not allowed to come inside the house, but Huffer said they would gather outside to pray for him.

“I turn to look out the window, and there was a sea of people in our cul-de-sac and our yard,” Bobbi said. “It literally took my breath away. It was tons of kids from the church and his high school. They surrounded our house for an hour and a half, just praying for him. I couldn’t believe it.”

The community continued to support Jeremiah as Riverheads students wore orange clothing and residents tied orange balloons to their mailboxes. Studio 360 in Staunton created hoodies with the logo “#TeamJerry” in support of Jeremiah, and bakery Sweeter with a Cookie painted that message onto cookies for sale. Bobbi said she’s consistently been encouraged by the people around the community who have been wearing the sweatshirts.

The support from the community has expanded onto social media, where Jeremiah’s older sister, Kate Owens, started the Facebook page titled Jeremiah’s Journey. On the page, you can read posts written by Kate or Bobbi and hear updates about how Jeremiah is doing.

“I know that Jeremiah has a story to tell,” Kate wrote in a Facebook post. “Not only will he spend next summer in this room getting ready to go off to college like I did seven years ago, but he’ll do it with purpose greater than I could have ever imagined.”

As Jeremiah received chemotherapy treatments and bone marrow biopsies, his family kept their faith in God. They felt a sense of security in knowing that someone else was in control of the situation.

“I honestly feel like he prepared us for this,” Bobbi said. “I know that sounds crazy, but Jeremiah and I both knew something was wrong even though he was never that sick. I feel like our family is so joyful, happy and thankful, and that can only come from God.”

After 17 days at UVa, Jeremiah was allowed to go home, where he was welcomed back by a sign in the front yard that read “welcome back to the hood Jerry.”

On Nov. 13, the family learned after a series of bone marrow biopsies that Jeremiah’s cancer was in remission. He still had several years of treatment to go, but life after leukemia was in sight.

Just a few days ago, the Hughes family learned a previously noticed abnormality in Jeremiah that indicated a type of leukemia that had a high chance of reappearance was no longer present.

Now Jeremiah looks forward to attending Liberty University in Lynchburg next fall. The location of Liberty allows Jeremiah to stay close enough to still receive treatments when necessary. Bobbi hopes nothing gets in the way of him attending school as normal, as his last two years of high school were interrupted by COVID and cancer.

“His junior and senior year have just been taken,” Bobbi said. “I just want him to be able to go to college like a normal kid. That’s why it was such a blessing for us to learn that the rare abnormality was gone.”

Bobbi said community support was appreciated.

“They really have no idea what they have done inside our home,” Bobbi said. “They’ve constantly made us smile. I really don’t know if this type of love exists in any other places.”

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