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Jason P.

A long-time Veteran fighting a new battle

When Jason P. shared his family’s military history, I was reminded of that scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest talks about all the men in Lieutenant Dan Taylor’s family who served before him.

“Somebody in his family had fought and died in every single American war,” Forrest recounted.

That wouldn’t be the case for Lt. Dan, of course. But that long line of service touches on a theme we’ve heard before.

Jason followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, and brothers, dedicating 18+ years of his life in service to his country. (He even has a relative who fought in the Civil War.) He first joined the Marine Corps, then later switched to the Air Force.

His career would take him all around the world, including tours in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, where he worked as a prison guard and then conducted vehicle searches on base.

Jason and his wife Hanah welcomed a son named Wyatt, and while they were thrilled, it was tough having Jason gone for most of Wyatt’s first 2 ½ years. When they had their second son, Ethan, Jason seriously considered ending his service time. 

“It was about that time that I was offered early retirement,” he shared. “I was at 18+ years, emphasis on the ‘plus,’ and it seemed like the right timing, so I took it.”

Jason had spent nearly two decades of his life serving our country.

Unsurprisingly, leaving that phase of his life was a big adjustment. 

He eventually got a job with Aggasiz Grain Tile, where he was supported and treated well. They encouraged him to go back to school to finish his bachelor’s degree, which was fully covered by his GI Bill. He went on to graduate from Mayville State University in 2016.

Despite his many successes, Jason still felt like it was difficult to find a place where he felt like he belonged. Then, in late January 2019, some of his coworkers finally talked him into going ice fishing for the first time.

“They rented an icehouse, and I met them at the lake to go fishing,” he told us. “We spent the day out there and did not get a single bite.

“At the end of my first ice trip, I didn’t catch anything, had to pay to fix the icehouse after the door was ripped off in a storm, and hurt my ankle.”

Not exactly a five-star review, huh?

His ankle was swollen and painful, but Jason tried to wait it out. Later, he developed a fever and couldn’t really eat, so he decided to get it checked out. 

“I went to the ER, and they said the x-ray looked good,” recalled Jason. “I went home, then went to work, but I was still in bad shape. My primary care doctor sent me to the VA in Fargo, ND.”

Once he arrived, the medical staff kept asking if he fell while on the ice. 

“I told them, ‘No, I didn’t fall,’ but they kept asking me if I fell and hit my head and just didn’t remember it,” he said. “The doctor finally told me that it looked like I had internal bleeding and needed a CT scan.”

It was pure and total chaos as he sat in the room with all the other ER patients. Some people were agitated and yelling, others were moaning in pain. There was little to no privacy. An ER doctor returned to the room and asked, “Are you Jason Perkins?” When he confirmed it, the doctor said, “You have leukemia.”

The intern beside him hovered for a few seconds, grabbed a box of tissues, handed it to Jason, and left the room.

“My wife and I were both in shock, wondering what the hell just happened,” he told us.

Jason was officially diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare blood cancer that accounts for 1% of all new cancers and typically affects older men (average age of 68). Jason was 41 years old.

He endured four rounds of chemotherapy and was slated to have a bone marrow transplant. But then the team decided to wait for 30 days, do another blood draw and see if the cancer went away on its own. 

It was an understandably stressful time for the family. Soon after, they heard about a program that allows kids with parents who have cancer to go to a week-long camp for free at a place called Camp Kesem.

“They have these camps all over the US and just so happened to have a camp with openings near where a close family friend was getting married,” Jason shared. “We figured, let’s go to the wedding/camp and get away from all the things going on…(and) let our boys have fun before we find out if I need the transplant.”

The camp was a huge hit and Wyatt and Ethan are still involved to this day. When the results came back in from Jason’s testing, he did not need to have a transplant done. (Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case the second time around.)

By the end of 2019, Jason’s cancer was in remission. But by December of 2022, his blood work started coming back weird, and he was diagnosed with MDS with fibrosis in March of 2023. It made it necessary to go forward with the bone marrow transplant he avoided the first time.

They looked at Jason’s siblings and half-siblings, but the only match was a half-brother who was only a half-match. They checked the bone marrow registry - - and found a full match unrelated to him. The odds of this, by the way, are low. 

A bone marrow transplant is no walk in the park. To further complicate things, only two VA hospitals in the US currently perform the procedure Jason needed. That meant he and his wife, Hanah, needed to relocate from their home in North Dakota to begin self-isolation in Seattle, WA as he awaited his procedure.

Their teenage sons, both starting another school year, couldn’t come with them. Based on how things progress, Jason and Hanah won’t see them in-person for the next 6-12 months. But with his AML diagnosis, Jason faced a 15% chance of making it past five years. He’s in his fourth year post-diagnosis. There were no other options. 

That leads us to where Chive Charities and donors like you come into play. 

Jason was referred to an organization called Service Dogs for America by a coworker who thought a service animal might be able to help support him.

“We went to visit the organization, and just in the few minutes the dog was in the room, my family said they could see the change in me for the better. After that, I knew this was something I needed to do for myself and my family,” Jason said.

As Jason told us, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He wasn’t able to form a bond with the first dog they offered, saying, “It was like the dog was working but it was working for the trainer, not me. After two weeks of training, I had to sit down with the staff and let them know I did not think the bonding process was going well and I think I need to move forward with another dog or not be part of the program.

“This was the lowest point in the training for me. It was like how bad of a person do I have to be to be rejected by a dog,” he said.

But after meeting with the team and taking a break, he was introduced to a new group of dogs. One named Rex chose Jason, and he chose Rex. The bond was formed.

“Since beginning my journey with Rex, he has helped me get out in public more with less anxiety, and as time passes and trust builds, I am sure my anxiety will decrease. Rex has also assisted me with my range of motion. If I drop items, he is there to pick them up for me, and now I don’t have to rely on someone else to get it for me. I am not sure why, but it feels like I am beginning to sleep better at night. I’m not sure if it is because of less stress, but it feels like I am getting more sleep.”

As he faces one of the biggest challenges of his life, he needs all of the benefits he can get. Because donors like you proudly stand behind Veterans and cancer warriors like Jason, we were able to fully fund the cost of his service dog, Rex, from our partners at Service Dogs for America for a total impact of $25,000.

If there were a theme to this story, I think it’d be strangers helping strangers. Jason was able to find a bone marrow donor because a stranger signed up on the national registry. Then he was able to get the service dog he needs because of strangers like you who agreed to support him. It’s powerful. It’s life-changing. And for Jason, it’s a beacon of hope for the journey ahead.

We always need more strangers stepping up to help those in need. They might not know your name, but they’ll feel your impact. Become part of it with us and DONATE HERE.

Jason P.'s Updates

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