Fight On for Jackson

    Jackson Panzarello's battle with brain cancer has inspired donors nation-wide.

    Oct. 28, 2013

    By Sarah Bergstrom

    On June 24, 2012, the Trojan Family lost a young and spirited member when 9-year-old Jackson Reece Panzarello lost his 16-month battle with cancer. Jackson's parents, Lisa and Mark, met as undergraduate students at USC and so, when their son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in February of 2011, they decided to inspire him and themselves with the slogan "Fight On, Jackson."

    Before the diagnosis, he was a typical 9-year-old boy: athletic and funny, spending his time watching NASCAR, playing with his dog and loving USC. But after days of headaches and throwing up, flu symptoms and tummy aches, an MRI revealed a tumor the size of a baseball in Jackson's brain. He was diagnosed with GBM (Glioblastoma Multiforme) brain cancer, one of the most invasive types of glial tumors which grows rapidly and accounts for 17% of all primary brain tumors.

    After attempting a surgery shortly following diagnosis, the doctor told Mark and Lisa the worst news any parent could hear: Jackson's illness was terminal.

    His cancer went into remission in July of 2011 but only a few months later an MRI showed the tumor had returned to an even worse degree. The days went by filled with doctor's appointments, MRIs, tests, medications, and hospital visits, and sadly, after 16 months, Jackson's family had to say goodbye.

    But Jackson's story does not end there.

    Shortly after he was diagnosed in 2011, a complete stranger named Larry Graff heard about Jackson's story and was inspired to do something. Without ever meeting the Panzarello's, Graff set out to raise funds for cancer research and to make Jackson's final year of life just a little bit better. Graff even organized an encouraging video from NASCAR's Jeff Gordon to support Jackson in his fight. Graff's life was changed by this young boy's story, and even since his passing, Graff's continued efforts toward fundraising for cancer research are done in Jackson's memory.



    In honor of Jackson and inspired by his battle, Graff has raised nearly $60,000 for childhood cancer research through The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, Kick It for Children's Cancer, and CureSearch. In an article written by Graff explaining the importance of Jackson's story, he spoke of the enduring message of what it means to "Fight On" in the quest to find a cure.

    "Fight On through the pain and make every day count," he wrote. "Fight On if people seem disinterested about fundraising for a cure. Fight On to ensure that no family has to hear the words, 'it's terminal,' that his parents heard in a cold medical office in Los Angeles."

    Fighting on from start to finish, Jackson boasts the story of a valiant Trojan, and finally, after waiting for over two years, something special happened at the Coliseum this past weekend. Graff made the trip to Los Angeles to watch the Trojans take on the Utes but more importantly to meet Mark, Lisa and their son Willis for the first time. While Jackson's story is one of immense sadness, his family, Larry Graff and the Trojan Family as a whole can find peace in the knowledge that his legacy will continue to provide hope for people far into the future.

    "One child's impact on pediatric cancer research has continued beyond his death," said Graff. "The fundraising efforts ensure that Jackson will always have a lasting impact on needed research."

    Graff and Jackson's story demonstrate how Trojan fans stay involved with Community Outreach alongside the Athletic Department. Following this example, Athletics hosted another child battling cancer from the Never Ever Give Up organization on Saturday. In these small and other larger battles, the Trojan Family continues to Fight On for a cure.