Treated for a brain tumor, Jean Pierre heads to Penn State University

As he prepares to move out of the country for college, he said he feels well prepared for the challenges ahead.

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St. Jude survivor and cancer patient Jean Pierre

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Jean Pierre made a request of his parents months after COVID-19 caused worldwide shutdowns.

He wanted to leave the Costa Rican coastal town they live in and move more than four hours away to the capital of San Jose to finish his high school education. He wanted more intense studies at an international bilingual school that would offer more science courses and prepare him better for college.

“I didn’t feel I was reaching my full potential, so I convinced my parents to let me go to San Jose,’’ he said. “At the new school, I get to take physics and chemistry.” 

Jean Pierre, 18, now lives with his younger brother in an apartment and is responsible for getting himself to school, studying and exercising. He also drives home almost every other weekend to see his parents.

The teen, the oldest of four boys, and his father, Manfred, credit his independence to his fight against a brain tumor which he was diagnosed with as a 3-year-old. He was treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“Ever since I was a child, I have to remember to take my medicines, at what time and how much of it,’’ he said. “I think it just made me more responsible.” 

Jean Pierre was taught early on about the medications he was taking, their purpose and what he needed to do to keep healthy, including what he should eat and what sort of physical activity he needed to do.  So even though it is hard to let children move away from home, Manfred said he thought both his sons were ready.

“Those things made him mature, and he always wants to improve himself,’’ Manfred said. “He is also a person who always wants to help because of all he has received from St. Jude.”

St. Jude survivor and cancer patient Jean Pierre

Jean Pierre was born in Louisiana. His parents were about to relocate to their native country of Costa Rica when doctors discovered the brain tumor after their son experienced regular headaches and was always fatigued. He had a hard time communicating and had a growing thirst that could not be quenched.

He was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, a brain tumor that grows slowly but can cause serious illness. Jean Pierre's tumor was found in the pituitary gland, a tiny but important part of the brain that produces hormones which help you grow.

The family first went to a local hospital where Jean Pierre underwent surgery, but after finding out about St. Jude, they were referred to the research hospital in Memphis. There, Jean Pierre received radiation therapy every day for three months, his father said. He later received speech and physical therapy.

"Until we got to St. Jude, that is when we really understood what was happening, where the tumor was and how dangerous it was,'' Manfred said.

Jean Pierre will graduate from high school this year, then will head to Penn State University where he wants to pursue a degree in computer engineering. His love of building and design, he said, was sparked at St. Jude.

St. Jude survivor and cancer patient Jean Pierre

When he was a boy, he often played with colorful plastic building blocks as he waited for a doctor’s appointment or his radiation treatment to begin at the hospital. Manfred remembers hospital staff bringing his son Legos when the waiting took longer than expected.

A few years later, Jean Pierre participated in the first Lego League event, an annual competition where participants research, problem-solve and then build and program a robot.

Through the years, Jean Pierre estimates he has built hundreds of Lego kits, many of which he purchased on annual trips to Memphis. His favorites are of Star Wars.

As he prepares to move out of the country for college, he said he feels well prepared for the challenges ahead.

St. Jude gave me a second chance and it’s something I should take advantage of and not waste it,’’ he said. “It’s also showed me to be more positive about life and do everything to the maximum.”

St. Jude survivor and cancer patient Jean Pierre

His father said even though he’s excited to celebrate his son's high school graduation, the biggest milestone of Jean Pierre’s life this year is that he no longer has to return to St. Jude annually for checkups. He had his last regular checkup earlier this year.

“Graduation from high school is pretty good we know, but graduation from St. Jude is amazing,’’ Manfred said.

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