Sometimes Saving One Life Can Help Change Your Own

His father calls him “cheeky and cheerful.” Jayden, 3, also is—in the best sense possible—a mimic of sorts. Often confined to a hospital bed while he battles cancer, he’s accustomed to being helped. But he’s learned to do unto others as has been done for him. He’s not afraid to reach out to others in affection.

When his mother reads to him, he energetically claps to show his appreciation. When his illness gets the best of her and her spirits sag, he gently asks, “What’s wrong, mummy?” He consoles her, “Don’t worry.”

Lots of Lions in four nations have worried about Jayden and lent their support since his parents learned he suffered from neuroblastoma, a rare, potentially fatal disease. He’s been treated in his native Malaysia and then Singapore and, lastly, Spain. If funds can be raised, his parents hope the next stage of treatment will take place in New York, where a vital vaccine is available.

His doctors in Malaysia, unable to provide the necessary sophisticated medical procedures, had almost given up hope after his initial treatments. Jayden’s parents were at a low point, believing they were out of options. What subsequently happened—his odyssey to other nations to receive advanced care—is testament to the network that exists among Lions, as well as their determination to serve and step forward to save the life of a toddler.

“Battling cancer is a marathon. Every new symptom is a reason for sleepless nights,” says his father, Marcus Ban, who works in the engineering industry. “Jayden currently is living a cheerful life. We’re looking forward to returning home on a high note.”

Lions who have visited with Jayden are struck by his upbeat demeanor, despite the often grueling and painful treatments. “He’s been a fighter since he came into the world. For us, Jayden is a superhero,” says Eduardo Zea of the Barcelona Gaudi Lions Club.

Neuroblastoma commonly occurs in children under 2. Immature cells called neuroblasts do not grow into functioning nerve cells. Instead, for reasons not understood, they become cancer cells. Only 700 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. When found and treated early on, chances for recovery are good in the United States. But outcomes are far less positive in developing nations.

Jayden plays doctor—something he's very familiar with after a battle with neuroblastoma that began when he was just two years old.

After he and his wife began to despair of securing adequate care, Ban happened to learn about a child with a rare disease who was helped by the Kaula Lumpur Lions Club and other Lions in Malaysia. The story was told in the LION Magazine (September 2018) and regular updates were being given on Facebook and WhatsApp.

“Marcus rang me up,” recalls Stella Foo of the Kuala Lumpur City Lions Club. Kaula Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia with 1.6 million people. “Maybe we can’t help everyone survive, but we could at least save this one life. It meant the whole world to his parents and family.”

Like the other child helped by Malaysian Lions, Jayden was flown to Singapore, where he received surgery and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the microscopic cancer cells, tiny but ferociously malignant and resilient, often prove to be resistant to chemotherapy. So off Jayden went to Barcelona for eight months or so of immunotherapy.

Lions from the various nations came together to help Jayden, thanks to the Global Action Team (GAT), a worldwide network of Lion leaders that provide Lions and community leaders with access to key programs and tools. GAT promotes membership, leadership, and service.

Past Council Chair Patrick Chew of Malaysia, a GAT Area Leader, contacted GAT staff at LCI about Jayden’s plight. A meeting was arranged at the LCI convention in Las Vegas with Past Council Chair Patrick, Past District Governor Ken Chew, a GAT Area Leader from New York, and Portia Fagel of the Yonkers Millennium Lions Club in New York.

“This is a great example of how the GAT activated the global Lion-to-Lion network,” says Global Action Team Chairperson, Past International President Kajit Habanananda. “Lions were able to reach across borders in service.”

Helping Jayden was a no-brainer for another reason: pediatric cancer is one of Lions’ global causes.

Lions have assisted Jayden in numerous ways. Kuala Lumpur Lions donated from their own pocket, appealed for funds on social media, and persuaded other clubs in Malaysia to help. The Singapore Tanah Merah Lions Club raised funds at its multiple district convention. The Yonkers Millennium Lions Club in New York raised money and acted as a liaison between the family and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The GAT team at LCI in Oak Brook sent Christmas presents to Barcelona for Jayden.

Lions in Barcelona helped make Jayden and his parents feel at home in their city. They visited the hospital, donated 700 diapers (diarrhea is a nasty side effect of the treatment), presented him with a nifty bathrobe, and even provided the family with a transit card for local transportation. They threw Jayden a birthday party when he turned 3 and gave him a fire truck and a stuffed lion.

Jayden endured treatment for neuroblastoma, a rare cancer affecting young children, in three different countries before being cleared to go home.

Lions have donated nearly 25 percent of the US$340,000 in medical expenses incurred so far for Jayden’s treatment.

“We are forever grateful and indebted to Lions,” says Ban. “Their kindness, generosity, and love transcend borders and ethnicity. Lions have helped us grow from despair to hope.”

Ban is particularly grateful to Foo for her tireless service on behalf of Jayden. She’s the “big bang” at the center of Lions’ efforts, he says.

The generosity of Lions has inspired Ban to reach out to other families in similar straits. He and his wife, Mooi Mooi, coordinate a WhatsApp chat room for other families in Spain grappling with neuroblastoma. Five families currently are leaning on Ban and Mooi for advice. “They’re strangers here. Life can be really tough. They need help in looking for accommodations, translation services, visas, even groceries,” he says.

Jayden and his family were expected to return home to Malaysia in April. But to prevent a relapse they’d like Jayden to receive a vaccine treatment, an extension to the immunotherapy, which may become available in Barcelona within a year but is currently offered in New York. Ban is willing to uproot his family to ensure his son stays healthy: he says he is considering relocating to the United States and finding a new job here.

Jayden’s care is lifesaving. For involved Lions, it’s been life-changing. “I feel good to be someone’s light when they are in darkness,” says Foo, who has two young children. “I’m a happier soul after seeing what I’ve done. I feel that we all need help at a certain point in our lives. I know how to love my own family better than before because I know that life is so fragile.”