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Glowing for a cause: Students to support Eli Jansma in his cancer battle

SIBLEY, Iowa — The Sibley-Ocheyedan High School student body is hoping to light up the night tonight in a Glowing for a Cause event to support Eli Jansma, a local 9-year-old boy who is fighting his second battle with brain cancer.

Jansma, the son of Chad and Connie Jansma of Sibley, just completed the third grade at Sibley-Ocheyedan Elementary.

Starting at 7 p.m. in Sibley’s Central Park, family activities and games will begin, including sand volleyball, tennis and a bean bag toss. Meanwhile, S-O FFA member Dalton Peterson, a runner-up in the Iowa FFA Idol contest, will perform musical selections throughout the evening.

Registration for the 5k run-walk will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m., with the walk beginning at 9 p.m. All participants will wear glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets and walk or run the well-lit trail that includes portions of sidewalks, streets and the bike path. Glow-in-the-dark paint will be used to create arrows marking the path.

“We thought it would be a good idea to get the community to be involved,” said Josh Wagenaar, an upcoming senior at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School. He along with fellow students helped organize this evening’s fundraiser.

Students contacted business sponsors in the community for donations, which were then used to purchase T-shirts and glow sticks.

So far, more than 100 people have registered to take part in the walk/run — meeting the goal Wagenaar had initially set for this first-ever event. He’s since increased the goal to 150 participants with the overall fundraising goal at $2,500. As of Thursday, $2,300 had been raised.

Additional funds will be raised tonight through registration fees and donations. All proceeds will go to the Jansma family.

“Connie has coached so many sports — track, volleyball, basketball,” Wagenaar said. “Almost every season she is coaching in some way and Eli has come to the practices. Knowing he was going through cancer, it all hurts the students.”

Eli was seven months old when doctors discovered he had a brain tumor, which ultimately left him blind in his right eye.

On July 31, 2012, Connie said the family celebrated Eli’s sixth year in remission. A week later, on Aug. 8, a check-up revealed the tumor in Eli’s brain was growing again.

“We did chemo once a week for a year, and he had to have surgery to put a port in,” said Connie. After a year, the family was sent to Minneapolis for a second opinion, where they learned the year-long chemo treatments had been unsuccessful.

“We found out when we went up there that it was growing this whole time during the chemo,” she said.

Not only was the tumor continuing to grow behind Eli’s optic nerve, but a cyst sack had also formed around the tumor. Doctors feared continued growth would cause Eli to lose sight in his good eye, and could expand into the pituitary gland, Connie explained. The pituitary gland impacts growth, and Eli is already small for his age.

Today, Eli is on a regimen of experimental chemotherapy drugs. Connie has to wear gloves to administer them.

“We’re on our third month trying, right now,” she said. “He takes it for three weeks and has a week break.”

The first month was the worst, with Eli in tears because of the pain on some days. He spent Easter Sunday in the emergency room because he became sick with a high fever, she said.

Eli’s last MRI was taken May 28, and things are stable at this point.

“They won’t really know if (the experimental drugs are) working until the sixth month,” Connie said. “It looks like the cyst sack may have shrunk a little bit.

“Right now we’re just waiting it out,” she added. “If the trial does work, we’ll do it for up to two years. Regardless, he has a long road.”

The Jansmas are overwhelmed by the community support given them during Eli’s battle with cancer. As a para and a coach in the Sibley-Ocheyedan school district, she gets to work with students of all ages. She has also coordinated three years of Coaches vs. Cancer, and the family participates in Relay for Life events in Osceola County and Nobles County.

This latest fundraiser for the Jansma family “is wonderful and goes straight to our hearts,” Connie said. “I care about this community. I care about the students — just as much as my kids. It’s amazing how those kids are just there for me and my kids.

“I am so proud and happy that these students are doing this — it’s a great thing,” she added. “These kids at the school, I want them to know that this means a lot — a lot. They’re doing a great cause, and it’s very touching that they’re doing this for us.”

Earlier this year, students at Sibley-Ocheyedan public school conducted a penny war as a fundraiser for the Jansma family.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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