On a rainy Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I was driving along the river on 1st St. NW in Cedar Rapids, IA. I saw this guy with a cowboy hat, an eye patch, crisp blue jeans, and clean, white boots riding a souped up bike down the road.
When I passed him he looked over and smiled. I thought, I have to go talk to that guy. So, I did! I admit that normally I’m a tiny bit nervous about approaching strangers with neck tattoos–those are meant to be intimidating, right?–but I had nothing to worry about with Jeremy.
Jeremy Jauch (pronounced Yock) was open, friendly, and patient when I chased him down. I also found out he’s in a battle for his life. Jeremy is fighting a rare, highly dangerous form of cancer called sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma, or SNUC for short. It has metastasized and is attacking multiple parts of his body.
“I was diagnosed stage four,” he told me. “I thought, stage four? What happened to stages one, two, and three?”
He said he has two weapons he’s using to fight the cancer: “chemo and Jesus.” He assured me they’re doing their job. “I have a tumor in my brain, one pushing behind my eye [hence, the eye patch], in my spine, and in my liver. The one in my liver is completely gone now. Over 80% of the cancer is gone,” he told me.
I was astounded by his positivity, given what he’s facing. But it isn’t his first struggle. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Jeremy moved to Cedar Rapids looking for a fresh start after he was finished with his “parole and probation and all that,” he said. “This is the longest I’ve been out since I was twelve.”
Even with the cancer, life is better here according to Jeremy. “I love Iowa. It’s like heaven on earth. My pastor said it was just ranked one of the best places to live in the country. You’ve heard of the country music singers the Judds? The song where she’s singing, ‘Tell me ‘bout the good old days’? I want to say, you don’t have to go back in time. You just have to come to Iowa!”
“The people here are so nice. My doctors at the University of Iowa actually call me once or twice a month to check up on me and see how I’m doing. That never would have happened in California. […] The temp agency I work through, DES, brought me flowers when I was in the hospital. I told them I could keep working, and they said, ‘Jeremy, you’re fighting stage 4 cancer! Get your rest and you’ll have a job waiting for you when you get better.’”
When I spoke with him, he was looking forward to getting back to work, but in the meantime, he was focused on healing and spending time with the people he cared about. (He was on his way to see his girlfriend when I stopped him to ask for an interview.)
Of course, I also had to ask him about his bike.
“This is my nephew’s bike. He’s only four and can’t ride it yet, but when we saw it we had to get it for him. When he goes to school he’s going to have the baddest bike in school. I look after it for him, so nothing happens to it before then.”
Story and photos by Courtney Ball