Zach’s Story: Surviving Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin Disease

Diagnosed with stage IV Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin Disease in September last year, 15-year-old Zach of Woodbury, Minnesota was just preparing to enter his freshman year of high school. After completing 17 radiation treatments and chemotherapy at the University of Minnesota, Zach is technically cancer free. Today, he lives a relatively normal life with the exception of some physical limitations that the chemotherapy has left with him.

Zach’s treatment has caused the blood flow to his knees to be constricted, resulting in osteonecrosis, also referred to as “bone death.” An avid baseball and sports player, Zach has been unable to return to baseball and is at high risk for his knees collapsing. The worst case scenario is Zach needing joint replacements as a remedy for the osteonecrosis, however at 15 years age, Zach is still growing and surgery is not the best option, as it may affect his growth plates.

Ultimately both Zach and his family hope that his bones are able to regenerate non-surgically. In the meantime, Zach is avoiding undue impact to his knees by avoiding strenuous physical activity that includes running or jumping.

Although Zach’s journey with cancer has been cumbersome, he feels that he has experienced positive moments, as friends and the community have been there for him and his family in many different ways. “We all realized who our friends were and how loved we are,” says Zach’s mom Leah. “It was overwhelming to see people we didn’t know come out for Zach’s whiffle ball tournament fundraiser, including teams that have faced Zach in baseball – teams from other metropolitan communities.” She says the family became closer as a result of Zach’s experience, too.

Zach says he believes his illness has made him a better person. “I don’t take things for granted anymore,” he says. “It has increased my level of maturity.”

Zach is currently working hard to get back in shape, helping the 9th grade team in whatever capacity he can, as well as lending support to his 12-year-old brother’s baseball team. Zach’s journey as a cancer-survivor may still be proceeding, but he is not allowing it to control the helm of his life. “I am completely dedicated to getting back into sports” he says.