Make-A-Wish surprises Kenefick cancer survivor with trip to Wrestlemania

JJ Stanek of Kenefick is traveling with his parents, Carlyle and Jesilyn, and sister, Holly, to Hollywood later this month to see Wrestlemania. The trip was presented to the Stanek family through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children facing critical and terminal illnesses.

A 9-year-old Kenefick boy’s wish came true on Wednesday when he and his family were granted a trip to Wrestlemania in Hollywood, California. Justin James “JJ” Stanek, now in remission, has dreamed of seeing his favorite wrestlers in person, especially Roman Reigns, a wrestler who, like JJ, has battled cancer and won.

JJ, the son of Carlyle and Jesilyn Stanek, was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma in October 2021. The day before the cancer diagnosis, JJ had played quarterback with his flag football team in Dayton.

“He was sick the day of the game, but we thought it was nerves. He still went out and played. He wasn’t feeling good, but he didn’t want to let his team down,” said Carlyle.

JJ Stanek of Kenefick was surprised by the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Wednesday at a special event hosted at Del Pappa Distributing Company in Beaumont.

The next day, while attending services at Kenefick Southern Baptist Church, JJ complained again to his parents that he was not feeling well. By that evening, they knew something was seriously wrong as he was complaining about pain in his abdomen and had a high fever.

“The hospital did a CT scan. The doctor came back later and told me, ‘There is a mass on his belly and we are going to transfer him to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston,” said Jesilyn. “I was like, ‘Okay, they are the specialists.'”

Jesilyn said she hadn’t even considered the mass to be cancer until later on when TCH nurses came into JJ’s room to explain that he was being transferred to the oncology unit.

“I didn’t know what that meant. I had to Google ‘oncology’ to find out it was cancer. Then I began to panic,” she said.

Carlyle remembers being on the road, driving for work, when he found out about the diagnosis.

“Jesilyn called me to tell me what they said. I was literally in front of Minute Maid Park when she gave me the news that it was cancer. I had to pull over and call several of my friends. I was crying like a baby on the phone,” he said. “I drove straight to the hospital and spent another two hours crying in the parking garage. I am so grateful to Texas Children’s Hospital because they took care of our baby.”

JJ underwent seven months of chemotherapy before his oncologists determined that his cancer is in remission. However, he will still have to be tested every three months for the next year and once a year for the rest of his life.

“When chemo started, his hair was blonde and straight. Now it’s darker and has a wave to it,” said Jesilyn.

Because the type of cancer JJ had is rare in children, doctors asked if he and his family would be willing to participate in research.

“I explained to JJ that the doctors wanted to do research on his cancer so it would help other people. He said to me, ‘So, basically, what you are saying is that I am a superhero.’ I said, ‘You are dang right, son,'” Carlyle said.

The trip to California will be the first time on an airplane for JJ and his sister, Holly. Once they arrive in Hollywood, Calif., the Stanek family will be treated to two nights of Wrestlemania, tickets to the Circle of Champions luncheon at Universal Studios and tickets to the rides and attractions at Universal Studios.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation partnered with Del Pappa Distributing Company in Beaumont to grant Stanek’s wish.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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