Jake Martell was a teacher, although he did not set out to be a teacher. He never intended to teach, but he was a teacher nonetheless. He was a teacher not because he had sayings you remembered or because he told the best stories or could summarize life’s lessons. He taught by the way he lived his life.
Born in Stillwater, Jake was a gentle, soft-spoken, inclusive, sweet, carefree boy. Jake was normal – until he was 12 years old, when he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a deadly form of childhood cancer. From that moment on, Jake’s life was no longer normal or carefree. In some ways, he went from living out his early adolescence to living as a man, and not just a man, but a wise one. He had the patience to withstand what he went through, and to deal with people who didn’t “get it”. He knew that he had influence on others. He knew what to say and what not so say. He did not lead people down a path of discouragement. Jake lived in the truth.
From the time he learned about his cancer, he somehow was able to accept his condition. He understood that Ewing’s Sarcoma is deadly and that from that point on the focus of his life would be the effort to block the cancer. Jake accepted this truth about his life, which may seem like a small thing but this acceptance—this living in the truth—was a defining feature of Jake’s life, and it was the foundation for everything that unfolded after that. Jake could have lived in anger or fear or anxiety or resentment. He could have hunkered down in self pity. “why me – this can’t be happening to me”, but he didn’t. While he experienced all those feelings, he somehow found a way to accept the truth – and that meant that he was able to live a big, big life, even with the limits imposed by his cancer. By accepting the truth of his life, he avoided living as a cancer victim. He refused to allow cancer to define him. By accepting the the fact of his cancer, Jake found a deep freedom. This is one of the lessons that Jake taught us.
In dealing with his cancer, Jake taught us to live in the present, to try to keep on as normally as possible, to live each day fully, to take each day as it comes – this breath, this time, this day, moment by moment by moment, time with family, time with friends, time to dance. “After the first relapse it’s really hard, but you have to face reality and you know that’s it’s always in the back of your mind but you have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Jake said. “After a while you’ve gotta do what you gotta do and make sure that you don’t worry so much about the future that could happen without living and enjoying things that are happening now.”
Going to school, playing sports, and hanging out with his friends. By living in the truth and living in the moment, Jake found his way to real joy. He was genuine, brave and kind, and he always had a smile on his face. Even when he was in pain (and he didn’t hide that), but even then he often greeted you with a smile. Toward the end, when he’d sleep all day, his eyes were closed but he was smiling, he was laughing. You could see it in his face. Jake taught us about joy. That is a gift that he gave to so many. That is another one of life’s lessons this wise young man taught us.
Jake’s parents Gail and Larry established RIS Jake Martell Fund in 2015 to honor the life Jacob. To contribute, please select “Jacob Martell Fund” from the drop-down menu on our secure donation page.