Wahpeton basketball player bedridden with cancerous tumor in broken leg
The Jan. 12 basketball game against Devils Lake was supposed to be the breakout game for Wahpeton's 6-foot-3 sophomore Jacob Petermann. He scored 19 points in a junior varsity game against Breckenridge (Minn.) four days previous, working the post, driving the lane and hitting shots from 15 feet out. He was the best player on both sides of the court.
Unaware to Petermann, Wahpeton head coach Jeff Ralph had varsity plans for him, starting with that game against Devils Lake. His basketball career, which began with his parents buying him a ball at 2 years old, had come to this. It was his time.
The night began with promise. It ended with Petermann in a hospital bed due to a cancerous tumor in his broken leg. He's been at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital since and will remain for at least three months.
It was supposed to be his time, but instead time has a whole different meaning to Petermann.
"I wish I could just have my regular life back," Petermann said. "I wish I could just be home. I wish this never happened. I just want to go back to school, be with my friends and have my health back."
Nurses and doctors at the U of M hospital have said they've never seen a room like Peterman's. The walls are covered with cards, posters and words of encouragement. His team, rival basketball teams, North Dakota State men's basketball coach Dave Richman, Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, it doesn't matter from whom, Petermann's mom hangs up everything.
"It's like a Hallmark store and the (Wahpeton) Huskies store blew up," Petermann said. "My room is always a conversation piece."
But there's no decoration that will make it home. His cat, Mirabella, is not there. His friends aren't there. He's told he needs rest, but is interrupted every hour by a doctor or nurse with questions. He needs care 24 hours a day. It's not home. It's a hospital.
"You look at a 16-year-old, built and in shape, you just don't expect cancer," Petermann's mom, Connie, said.
During warmups against Devils Lake, Petermann went up for a layup and came down hard. Two coaches carried him to the trainer's room. They thought it was an ACL tear, but the trainer thought his left leg was broken. Petermann was taken to a hospital in Devils Lake where it was determined he broke his femur. An ambulance was called to take him to Grand Forks.
The Devils Lake game was the first game neither of Petermann's parents were in attendance. Petermann's sister had an appointment and his dad, Tim, had to stay late at work. The two got the call from a parent and headed to Grand Forks. The 132-mile drive took Connie and Tim 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Only, when they got to the hospital, Jacob wasn't there. When the Wahpeton basketball team arrived to the hospital, after playing Devils Lake, Jacob wasn't there. His ambulance had broken down on the side of the road and the temperature was 22 degrees below zero.
"I was in so much pain I was thinking, 'Let's just cut the leg off,'" Petermann said.
Petermann arrived at the hospital around 11:30 p.m. Instead of recapping the beginning of his varsity basketball career, he was waiting for surgery on his leg. The surgeon looked at the X-ray of his leg and was not comfortable doing surgery. Petermann was airlifted to University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, arriving at around 3:30 a.m.
Surgery and a biopsy came two days later. Connie refers to the doctor telling her and Tim it could be osteosarcoma as "the talk." That came a day after surgery.
"It's devastating," Connie said. "You go from literally going to watch your kid play a game to the end of the weekend and you're going to the hospital for 12 weeks and your son has cancer and you can't leave the hospital. It's a lot to take, but the community and surrounding communities have just been unbelievable. I have no words."
Support has come from all over. A GoFundMe campaign was started, area schools have raised money, Bremer Bank in Wahpeton and Breckenridge have an account open for people who want to donate and wristbands with "Jacob's Journey" written on them are being sold. Petermann's teammates have shoveled the snow in the Petermann's driveway, and Shanley TV, which livestream Fargo Shanley sporting events, took some time from its broadcast to let Wahpeton players wave and send words of encouragement to Petermann, who was watching.
"It really makes me step back and realize that we're preparing them for way more than a basketball game," Ralph said. "I also think they're learning a lot about compassion. We've been fortunate to see many examples of compassion. Back on the 18th the Fargo South boys basketball team brought a check to donate to Jacob's fund. Coaches across the state have reached out to ask what they can do to help, and all of that certainly helps to know that people across the state are pulling for Jacob."
Petermann has begun chemotherapy. After three months, the family is hoping the tumor shrinks, so it can be removed. He'll follow up with three or four more months of chemotherapy, but he'll be able to travel back and forth from home for that round of chemotherapy.
"I still have a really hard time wondering what it means. When you hear the word cancer it's scary," Petermann said. "The doctors just told us it's something that can happen, and we hope and pray everything I have to do with the chemo works and it goes away."
Perhaps, this is Petermann's time to shine.
"The lesson learned is never take anything for granted. Make the most of every day," Petermann said. "And the thing that is so awesome is the teams we play against and the towns we are rivals with, in the end we are all one big community. When it matters we all come together. It has been such a whirlwind. I can't believe what people are doing for me. I just hope some day I can repay or pay back all this support that I am getting."