Cancer can’t keep Koenig down
Jake Sapp | Staff Writer
It’s difficult to have a normal school life after being diagnosed with a Wilms Tumor, but that is the reality that senior Joe Koenig has had to combat for the past eight months.
After being diagnosed with cancer prior to the 2018-2019 school year, Koenig has undergone numerous therapy sessions, surgeries and procedures in order to combat the disease. Chemotherapy has reduced Koenig’s white blood cell count significantly, rendering his body far less prone to being able to fight off diseases. Due to his current condition, Koenig has been unable to attend school for a number of months in order to avoid getting sick, and feels as though he has been isolated from his peers as a result.
“It’s been different,” Koenig said. “It’s a different lifestyle and it’s difficult, and there are things like chemo cycles and surgeries that make it a lot harder. I still have the weeks where I feel great, like a normal 18 year old, but there are others where I just feel terrible too.”
Since Koenig spends most of his time at home, he tries to occupy himself while his peers are at school or doing other activities.
“When I’m at home I’ll try to play video games or watch a movie,” Koenig said. “I try to get out of the house as much as I can just to do something, since it’s difficult just to be home every single day for eight months.”
Not being at school means that Koenig is not able to be around people, a factor that he sees as alienating in many different ways.
“Sometimes I’ll see people that I would normally see every day, and they sometimes just don’t recognize me,” Koenig said. “I used to have a lot of hair before, but now I’m just some bald guy that people haven’t seen in a whole year. It’s just a shock to them.”
When he is out in public, Koenig has to be extremely careful in order to prevent himself from having the chance of falling ill, since doing so would put him at serious risk.
“I have to be cautious about everything,” Koenig said. “I’m still able to do the things I would normally do, but I always have to be careful around crowds. It’s weird because it’s a total departure from how I used to live, and it’s been a difficult adjustment for me.”
Koenig said that his family has been with him throughout every step of the arduous journey and feels as though he could not have endured it without them.
“My family has been probably my biggest support system through all of this,” Koenig said. “If there are days where I’m feeling good, they’ll take me out to do something and just let me enjoy life. When there are days when I’m feeling bad, they’ll drop everything they are doing to take care of me.”
Alongside his family, Koenig said his friends and peers have been attentive to his needs, and help him handle his struggles by inviting him to different activities and breaking up the manautiny of staying inside all day.
“My friends are all really considerate about what’s going on,” Koenig said. “They all seem to get it and try to help me in any way that they can, but also respect the fact that sometimes I just can’t do certain things because I can’t get sick.”
Since he is unable to go to school, Koenig has had to seek different methods in order to keep up with his studies from home, meeting with a tutor in order to not fall behind. Koenig said some of his teachers have also taken it upon themselves to visit him and teach him one-on-one.
“I have a home instructor who will help me out mainly with English work,” Koenig said. “She coordinates with my other teachers to help me with my work and get in all of my graduation requirements. Other times I’ll just email my teachers and get work from there, and occasionally my Physics teacher stops by to help out as well.”
Although he cannot physically attend classes, Koenig still tries to participate in-school activities whenever he can in order to keep in touch with the people around him, taking part in things such as ultimate frisbee and religious study groups.
“I can’t do too many things because of my condition, but I go to whatever I can just to stay connected to people,” Koenig said. “Sometimes I go to Bible studies or Athlete Impact, anything that I can do to just be around other people.”
However, Koenig said he has had to be extra careful when participating in physical activities like ultimate frisbee, since the physicality of the sport could potentially pose a risk to his well-being.
“It’s just a lot harder because I’m wired to be very competitive when I’m playing sports,” Koenig said. “I really get into the game. I’d always be the person diving on the ground, catching, et cetera. It’s difficult to play because I have to be very cautious about people running into me. I’m just helping out coaching more than me actually playing consistently, and that’s hard for me.”
Koenig comes from a religious family, finding hope and guidance in scripture in order to navigate through difficult times. Koenig believes that the lessons he has learned from his faith have enabled him to see the bright side of his incredibly difficult strife.
“When I was younger, I personally wasn’t faithful,” Koenig said. “But as things started happening recently I’ve realized that these sorts of things are out of my control, and that I just need to have faith in God knowing that He has a plan for me.”
Regardless of how much his condition has affected his daily life, Koenig said he plans on continuing life as normal after his treatments are finished. He will be attending The University of Dayton to study Mechanical Engineering, alongside his brother who has been there for a year now.
“After all of this my life will be totally normal, just like everyone else’s,” Koenig said. “I will graduate on time with everyone else in my grade, and later this fall I’m going to be attending college like everyone else.”
Many individuals have found inspiration in Koenig’s story, and see him as a role model for how they should approach adversity.
“It’s kind of weird knowing that there are people who look up to me now,” Koenig said. “I’m used to just being the kid that goes along with life. Now if I were to walk into the school, most of the people who saw me would probably recognize me.”
Even though Koenig is not used to being looked at as an inspiring figure, he still finds solace knowing that his story might help others to find their drive.
“I don’t really see myself as that type of person, mainly because I’m not used to all of the attention,” Koenig said. “But if there are people who are able to look at me and say ‘if Joe can do it, so can I’, then I’m pretty proud of that.”
Photo contributed by Mary Beth Koenig.