Kid Captain: Skylar Jacobsen faced overwhelming odds in cancer battle


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Skylar Jacobsen doesn’t remember much from her early childhood battle with cancer.

Although the 13-year-old was too young to recall much of her struggles, her experiences have had a profound effect on her, her family, and all those whom she meets. 

Early in her life, Skylar faced a fairly common problem among babies. Frequent ear infections led to many trips to the doctor and hospital for Jacobsen and her mother, Paula Kuhl.

After a month of antibiotics with little to no effect, Skylar returned to the doctor. 

Kuhl recalls today how much worse it was than they initially anticipated.

On April 18, 2001, a CT scan was ordered. The results showed a hydrocephalic malignant tumor near ┬áSkylar’s brain. She was then transported from her home in Cuba City, Wis., to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where doctors scheduled surgery for eight days later. 

To make matters worse, Kuhl and Skylar’s father were in the midst of a divorce, and a custody battle was ongoing. 

“Here we are fighting over her, and God’s going to be the one to take her,” Kuhl said.

The tumor, which had wrapped its way around 8 of the 10 cranial nerves, was sizable.

Initally, Kuhl said, UI pediatric neurosurgeon Arnold Menezes told Kuhl and Skylar’s father that there was no way doctors could get the entire tumor. They would remove what they could,and attempt to get the rest with radiation and chemotherapy.

Depending on the success of the surgery, Kuhl says she was told that her daughter might not ever advance past a second-grade learning level. She might even have needed to be tube fed for the rest of her life.

“They had given her a 20 to 25 percent survival rate,” Kuhl said. “They basically told us that the procedure was impossible.”

After an eight-and-a-half-hour surgery, Skylar’s family met with Menezes.

“We were holding our breath, and he said, ‘Well, I got it,’ ” Kuhl said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

Kuhl and her mother both worked as nurses, making the entire process much less foreign for them and their family.

“It was good in the sense that we were familiar with what Skylar was going through, but it was harder because we knew the reality and severity of her situation,” she said. 

Skylar’s stepfather Shawn Kuhl had similar sentiments.

“Some people might say Skylar got a raw deal,” he said. “But if you look at how caring, compassionate, and sweet she is, you wouldn’t know that she’s been through hell.”

Skylar’s family recalls one particular incident in which her compassion post-treatment has shone through, and it happened one night after a bike accident sent the Kuhl family to the hospital. 

The family was waiting in the emergency room when Jacobsen spotted a woman crying. Her husband had just had surgery, and he was in critical condition. Skylar walked over to her, put her arm around her, and said, “I’m so sorry.”

“There was no hesitation,” Shawn Kuhl said. “As soon as she saw her, she just got up and did it.”

When asked why she got up and hugged the woman, Skylar said, “I don’t know. I just did it.”

“She understands that to whom much is given, much is expected,” Paula Kuhl. “She is very quick to pay it forward.”

Skylar’s family said they were honored that she was chosen to be a Kid Captain for Saturday’s home football game against the University of Northern Iowa, especially with the abundance of children fighting overwhelming odds at the UIHC. 

The UI’s annual Dance Marathon, which will be held on Feb. 1 and 2, 2013, also hits a soft spot for the family.

“Seeing how much money they raise, and how much people are willing to give, it’s amazing,” Shawn Kuhl said. “I’ve seen the tears in their eyes, and it means so much to us.”

Paula Kuhl agrees.

“We have truly seen the best in humanity,” she said.

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