“Never give up,” says cancer survivor who wrote matric six years later
He was the King David High School Victory Park (KDHSVP) matric student most likely to become anything he set his sights on. In 2015, Jarred Wood was popular, looked up to, excellent academically, on the stage, and in his boy band, Goldilox.
He was charismatic, and everyone knew and admired him. That’s until his worst nightmare came true.
He fell down stairs, bumped his head, and developed a haematoma. When going for x-rays, the doctors did further tests to find he had a brain tumour. “When I heard cancer and brain tumour, I thought I was going to die – never leaving the hospital. I was terrified,” Wood told the SA Jewish Report this week on celebrating getting his matric six years later.
He remembers the date as 20 October 2015. He had just turned 18. He found out he had Stage 4 cancer and they initially said there was little they could do and that he had two months to live without an operation. If he had the operation, he wouldn’t live past 20.
However, through some miracle, his brain formed a sheath around the tumour and stopped it metastasising which meant it could be successfully removed and he could recover.
“I wasn’t willing to die,” Wood, now 24, said. “I had and have way too much to do in my life. I was willing to do whatever it took to heal, but I was going to heal no matter what. Then I was going to get on with my life.”
He had the tumour removed, and then literally had to start all over again. “I was in hospital for six weeks, and spent a year at home. My vision went funky and I had no energy. I wasn’t able to walk, or even make a cup of tea. After a year, people still asked me if I was 100%, but I still feel like I’m in recovery,” he said.
He soon became sick and tired of being upstairs at home every day on his own, so he practiced getting up and down the stairs until he could do it.
Wanting to find something to get him out of the house, he accepted a part-time job at a music store in Illovo. “It got my mind working again, got me looking at books and codes, and I had to work. It was great.”
He then went on to get a job in security, then in a banking firm, before taking on employment at a wholesale distributor, before going back to complete his matric.
“I didn’t want to go back to matric,” he said. “I had so much anger. I was a really exceptional student back then, and didn’t want to do it all over again. However, [KDHSVP deputy head of teaching and learning] Mandy Gruzd contacted me and told me to do my matric through King David, and they would do what they could to help me.”
And so he did. “They were amazing! They prioritised me and gave me the most amazing support. I didn’t pay a cent, and whenever I needed help, they helped.”
He mostly studied online in the form of private lessons. “I think some of the kids at King David were aware of me because the teachers were proud of me and may have spoken about me.”
He chose not to be at the school because, he said, “I would have felt awkward.”
It wasn’t easy for him as there were numerous stumbling blocks to learning post-tumour, but he persevered and eventually wrote his finals in a sanitised private venue at King David.
His journey has given him what he calls “a spiritual wake up call to be more appreciative”.
“I used to be quite arrogant and took so much for granted. I don’t anymore,” he said.
He got mostly Bs and Cs in his matric, and has considered university at some point. “I used to want to go into music, but now I want to become an orthopaedic therapist. I taught myself to use my body again, now I want to help others.
“I’m cancer-free and excited about the rest of my life,” he said. “Getting diagnosed offered me a new path to share my story and tell people never to give up. I didn’t think I would survive, but I was determined to, and I did. It’s okay to fail, but don’t stop trying.”