Kenowa Hills — Senior Jestin Schulte remembers his freshman year of high school as the last “normal” year he experienced.
Not only did the class of 2022 spend portions of their sophomore and junior years learning virtually while coping with canceled plans during a global pandemic, Jestin faced yet another battle of resilience when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, halfway through his junior year.
“I had growing pains in my leg for my whole life, and when I was 16, (my doctor) told me I shouldn’t have those anymore,” he said. “We didn’t know what it was, but found out it was something in my bone. After a biopsy, I was diagnosed with bone cancer in February 2021.”
On June 16, 2021, Jestin endured what he called a “massive” surgery to replace his femur. As part of his recovery, he walked on crutches for six months and attended physical therapy twice a week.
Life as a student turned upside-down when he traded the classroom for his bedroom and classmates for his parents. Pandemic restrictions also prevented friends and family from visiting.
“It was difficult being home alone with only my parents at the beginning, but the restrictions eventually opened up to where my friends could come over,” he said. “We’d talk and play video games to help keep my mind busy.”
When he was feeling up to it, Jestin and his friends also went fishing on nearby lakes and ponds.
Friends played a critical role in making sure he got his school assignments and teachers supported and worked with him to navigate learning from home. One teacher even sent him a box of candy after learning about his diagnosis.
“I was a little worried about falling behind but teachers helped me out and I kept up the best I could,” he said.
Kenowa Hills High School special education teacher Spencer Vanderheide described Jestin as “the definition of resilient” and “a selfless, kind-hearted young adult.”
“In addition to our world fighting a collective battle for the past two years, Jestin was fighting his own,” Vanderheide said. “I have appreciated how open and honest Jestin has been about his healing journey. He has already used his story to encourage others in our class to keep fighting and to keep going. Kenowa Hills High School is definitely a better place because of him.”
English teacher David Lyons credits Jestin’s recovery to his positive attitude.
“Jestin went into the battle with the attitude he was going to win. He attacked the cancer and yet, his spirit of kindness and grace remained intact throughout,” Lyons said. “He champions all that is good in the world.”
‘What I went through was rough, but (it) matured me faster and taught me to live life, spend quality time with friends and family, and that the little things matter more than the big things.’– Jestin Schulte
Jestin’s battle continued, with chemotherapy during the summer before his senior year and into the fall semester.
“Chemo treatments were treacherous,” he explained. “I was bouncing between school and treatments and spent Thursday nights through Sundays at the hospital. Sometimes I would need to stay longer if I wasn’t feeling well.”
Getting McDonald’s for dinner on Thursday nights, he said, served as a silver lining for the pain, discomfort and nausea.
In addition to his teachers, Jestin said he was grateful for the doctors and nurses who cared for him during his surgery and hospital visits, and for Principal Nate Robrahn and Randy Barber, his lacrosse coach since seventh grade.
Returning to the Field
A longtime mentor by the time he was a senior, Jestin said his coach supported him during every step.
“Coach Barber is an amazing lacrosse coach, and when he heard about my cancer he became even more supportive and a person for me to talk to and look up to,” he said. “He was there for me and stayed in touch through my whole treatment process during and beyond our lacrosse season.”
Jestin’s teammates also created and sold T-shirts to help the Schulte family offset medical costs.
Toward the end of his junior year, support came from beyond Michigan when Jestin got a call from the HEADstrong Foundation, a non-profit in Philadelphia started by a college athlete diagnosed with terminal cancer to raise awareness and funds.
The organization sent merchandise and helped arrange a tour of the University of Michigan’s lacrosse facilities and for Jestin and his parents, coach and some teammates to watch a practice.
Almost a year after his diagnosis, the Schulte family met with Jestin’s doctors to discuss his most recent scans.
“It was the best news in the world when they told me I was in remission,” he said. “My parents were excited and my mom cried.”
The second best news: Jestin felt well enough to play his final season of lacrosse.
“My running looks goofy and I didn’t play that much but still got some playing time and got to be back with the team,” he said.
Principal Robrahn interjected: “Did he tell you he scored a goal during his last game? Had a tough time, but he kept showing up and we’re proud of (him) always.”
Jestin is headed to Grand Valley State University in the fall with the goal of eventually pursuing a career in medicine.
“Going away to school will be me moving on with life and away from the crazy of COVID and chemo,” he said. “What I went through was rough, but (it) matured me faster and taught me to live life, spend quality time with friends and family, and that the little things matter more than the big things.”