John Rose
Frater in the Bond, St. Jude patient, Survivor
by Garrett Thomas, Communications Specialist

It’s visceral. Rippling through you in waves of disbelief, frustration, shock, anger and every other adverse emotion within humanity’s range. With only a few words, lives become permanently altered. Seeds of fear, planted in the deepest areas of our minds. Waves of unstoppable emotion, radiating out from mere words. A handful of letters and spaces, spoken as gently as possible to their unsuspecting recipient, tearing them up in ways they could never have imagined. It’s visceral.

You have cancer.

In September of 1994, John Rose joined the incoming freshmen class at Christian Brothers University. He got a job at the campus bookstore, started studying and began to explore what the campus had to offer. He had a lot on his mind as he balanced his schedule of work, class and recruitment events. While attending social events at TKE, meeting new friends and imagining his life after joining TKE. He wasn’t thinking about the lump on his neck. A small inconvenience discovered the summer before coming to campus. Mononucleosis, they said. After all, both his doctor and, later, an ENT (ear nose and throat) specialist had confirmed it. However, the lump never really went away.

Cancer has a way of making mundane, everyday events into something else entirely. One day at work, while blowing up balloons for a store display, the glands in his neck, called carotid glands, became inflated like the balloons in his hands. His neck was now giving him the first clue that something was very, very wrong.

In his own words, he was “walking around looking like the Incredible Hulk, and not in an incredible way. I looked really bad.”

He skipped a TKE recruitment party because he felt too sick. The next day, his best friend and fellow TKE candidate made the call to take him to the emergency room. They didn’t know it then, but this decision saved John's life.

Following a set of scans by the ER doctors—CT scans and a bone marrow biopsy—his doctor spoke into existence the words that ripped through John’s life and everyone it touched. You have cancer. Words that will continue to affect John and his family throughout his lifetime.

John was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“It's a good thing your best friend brought you in,” the doctor told him, “because if you'd stayed in the dorm room for 24 more hours, you would have been dead.”

Just like that, work, grades, car payments, dates, homework, career plans, initiating into TKE, all previously such prominent concerns for a college student, vanished. Though John now had bigger things to worry about than fraternity life, his new friends at TKE weren't done with him yet.

John soon began treatment at St. Jude. What was once just an event the members of TKE held to raise funds for a children's hospital, soon became his reality. An event where potential new members like John would have received their first examples of love, charity and esteem, suddenly took on new meaning. A large tumor in his chest. Tumors in his lymph nodes. Tumors on his kidneys. Rose had tumors in 90 percent of his body.

In an interview with St. Jude, they revealed that Rose was very sick, but his doctor, Ching-Hon Pui, MD, had a treatment plan. “Dr. Pui plays it with you straight,” said Rose. “He tells you what to do, and he expects you to follow it. And I’m here because I did follow it.”

Rose wasn’t able to initiate that semester, but that didn’t stop the chapter. They weren’t about to let him go through this challenge alone.

“A lot of the Tekes came up to visit me in the hospital, kept my morale up, stopped to pray with me and pray for me,” recalls Rose. “Really, they were that support network I needed to keep my spirits up.”

“Being a cancer survivor changes the way you see the world. The ripple effects from that day, so long ago, still make themselves known.”

Rose and the team at St. Jude explained that Rose’s treatment began with a procedure called apharesis, during which his blood was pumped out of his system, “cleaned” in a centrifuge and pumped back into his body. “After the apharesis, the tumors started to melt away,” said Rose. “They disappeared.” He said his medical team had never seen anything like it.

He wasn’t out of the woods yet and began a two-year course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Rose is quick to credit the “know-how and protocols” at St. Jude. Rose shared that without them, he wouldn’t be here.

When his health had improved enough, Rose picked up where he left off with TKE, and in a short time became a Frater in the Bond.

“They really kept me going while I was sick,” said Rose in an interview with St. Jude. His life was back on track; he had survived, becoming a living example of why TKE believes so strongly in the power of St. Jude.

Fourteen years later, as he stepped outside of work, he fainted.

And he counts it as one of the happiest moments of his life.

During a workplace Thanksgiving party in 2008, he stepped outside to take a call from his wife. Being a cancer survivor changes the way you see the world. The ripple effects from that day, so long ago, still make themselves known. Even routine trips to the doctor become minefields of stress and anxiety. So, when his wife called after a trip to the doctor, he was tense. His mind ran wild with thoughts of the worst. She has cancer. What will we do? How do I handle this again? Why is this happening? Thoughts frantically racing around his mind in ever tightening circles, interrupting his ability to focus, creating a wave of memories that threatened to overwhelm, until…

“I'm just calling to tell you I'm pregnant,” she told him.

Then he woke up from the ground with concerned coworkers standing over him.

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids,” Rose explained to the men a few minutes later. Yet somehow, he was now going to be a dad—another miracle in his life. Cancer treatment can be brutal on the human body. Not being able to have children is a cost that many survivors pay.

In his interview with St. Jude years later, Rose said the combined experience of being at St. Jude and receiving the support of his Fraternity brothers had changed him. When he started his treatment he had the “poor me” mindset, a tendency to feel sorry for himself.

“I think my experience with St. Jude and seeing how my Fraternity brothers acted the whole way through, it’s really changed my perspective on life,” he continued.

John Rose is a Teke. He is a husband, a father and a Cub Scout pack leader. He is all these things, and more, because he is a survivor. Because of St. Jude, Frater Rose has been able to live his life. He has been able to exemplify love, charity and esteem. For him, St. Jude is more than just a charity that he raised money for in college. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is life.