GROSSE POINTE WOOD, Mich. – Jake Pennar was diagnosed with brain cancer, but the 9-year-old hated the word “cancer.” He would just name his tumor what was going on.
The 9-year-old loved baseball. But his dad, Krzysztof Pennar, knew something was wrong when he stopped hitting every throw that came his way. That was the fall of 2019.
“I was reading with him on the couch … and he said he saw double,” said his mother Amy Pennar.
After a CT scan, the family discovered he had a brain tumor.
Despite the tumor and the constant rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries, and more, Jake never thought about herself.
A few months before he died, he took part in the Great Cycle Challenge to raise money for childhood cancer research. He raised nearly $ 6,000 – more than any child in his category nationwide.
“He’d go out and ride and fall and then say, ‘I think I can’,” said his mom Amy Pennar.
Even Jake’s oncologist, Dr. Kate Regling said his attitude and personality were pleasing to other patients in the hospital.
“People could look at him and all the hurdles he had to overcome … he did it all with a smile on his face,” said Regling.
When Jake was in the children’s hospital, he loved building Lego sets. His parents said it was part of his journey.
“It was so personal and meaningful to Jake and he used them as a way to deal with it,” said Amy Pennar.
After Jake died, his mother, father, and sister Stacey decided to start a toy ride to honor him and help other children in the children’s hospital.
“I thought we might make it to 400 … it was this kind of labor of love where we would get a mountain of Amazon boxes,” said his father Krzysztof Pennar.
The labor of love grew so great that the family no longer had a room in the house and had to settle in their church. In the middle of winter, they moved the toys from the church to the hospital.
They collected 2,021 toys – Jake died in 2021, and his baseball number was 21.
“It blew me away, and this morning I realized it was 21 days between his birthday and the day he died,” said Krzysztof Pennar.
“I think it was Jake’s way of saying, ‘It’s okay, we’ve done something great for me and we’ve done something great for other kids who might be in a similar situation,’” said Regling.
Amy Pennar said, “The success of this toy ride was a reflection of the love people felt for him for just being who he was.”
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