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Author pens book inspired by area third-grader with cancer

By Erin Trester, Daily Globe

SIBLEY, Iowa — A author of children’s books has partially based her latest work on a third-grader at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary.

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Julia Cook’s “The ‘Can’ in Cancer” is inspired in part by the story of Eli Jansma, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at seven months and again in 2012.

Julia Cook poses with her book “The ‘Can’ in Cancer,” which is partially based on Eli Jansma, a Sibley-Ocheyedan third grader.Cook recalled already having been in contact with two other boys who had cancer, as well as their families, when she was reached by Chad Jansma, father of Eli.

“This all kind of started when I was still in Arkansas,” Cook explained. “I was doing a lot of school visits, and I’m good friends with many school counselors who would tell me that they have students diagnosed with cancer and were struggling with what to tell the teachers what the kids should know about a classmate with cancer.”

After hearing a little bit about the Jansmas’ story, she began interviewing the family to see what it was like for them finding out Eli had cancer — and what Eli goes through living with the disease. Cook subsequently combined experiences from all three boys and their families and wrapped them into one book.

“When interviewing Eli’s parents I simply asked them, ‘What would you want the book to say?’” Cook said. “They told me a lot of different things, like when he comes back to school to have the kids treat him the same, or if they want to visit him to make sure to call first. I tried to incorporate everything they told me in the book.”

Cook said youths are dramatically affected when contracting cancer.

“These kids hurt and they don’t understand,” Cook said. “For Eli, it changed him, and everything means something to him now — he appreciates life. He was so appreciative and had the best attitude.”

Cook has written numerous children’s stories about life issues like divorce, bullying and health. She also travels across the country giving presentations about topics important to children and pre-teens. She said she has heard painful stories from children dealing with health or life issues, but insisted that giving children information through a book like The ‘Can’ in Cancer takes some of that fear away.

“I think what’s important about books like these is that they give as much information that appropriate for kids to know,” Cook said. “Once you take some of that fear away and children can understand what a certain disease or issue is about, it truly helps and makes a difference.”

Eli’s cancer is currently stable, though he will go for another MRI in November.

“It truly is amazing to see Eli’s attitude about his disease,” Cook said. “Whenever his parents are getting sad about it, he always says, ‘It’s OK — I’m gonna do this.’ I think the world could use a few more Elis.”

She ultimately hopes that the book will inspire children to realize that there is a ‘can’ in cancer.

“I think when you’re faced with something like this you have two choices — to play defense or offense,” Cook said. “I hope my book inspires to play offense.”