Longtime Beaufort County coach, teacher battling cancer

Jon Strebe finds solace in faith, family, friends

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 29, 2013 

When doctors found cancer spots on Jon Strebe's lungs during a checkup in December, his three children put Band-Aids all across their dad's chest.

Luke, 4, Emma Kate, 3, and Ryan, 3, didn't quite know what cancer meant.

But they knew that Band-Aids heal boo-boos.

Bandages won't heal Strebe's cancer, but the love and support he has received from his family, the community and his faith just might.

"I have countless cards I've received strung up along the walls of our apartment, and I've heard from so many people," said Strebe, a longtime coach and teacher in Beaufort County. "I am not the only one fighting this battle."

UNEXPECTED NEWS

Strebe is the athletics director and a physical education teacher at Riverview Charter School in Beaufort. Before joining Riverview in 2010, he was a PE teacher and girls basketball coach at Hilton Head Christian Academy.

Only 36, he is being treated for cancer for the third time.

When first diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2006, Strebe said, he didn't even feel like he had cancer. He had surgery, didn't need chemotherapy, and it seemed he was in the clear.

He and his wife, Donna, had been married only a year.

But by the time of his second diagnosis, when doctors discovered the cancer had moved to his lungs during a routine checkup this past December, it was different. He had a wife and children, and a more grim prognosis.

After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy from January through April, Strebe still had some spots remaining on his lungs.

"I certainly was not expecting to hear that news," he said.

'GODSTRONG'

Strebe and his family have temporarily moved to Indianapolis to be treated by Dr. Lawrence Einhorn at the Indiana University Cancer Center.

Einhorn discovered a cure for testicular cancer in 1974, and he also led the medical team that treated Lance Armstrong in 1996.

Under Einhorn's care, Strebe is receiving two rounds of intense and invasive chemotherapy with stem-cell transplants in both rounds. This means before each round, the doctors extract stem cells from his body and freeze them. Then part-way through the chemotherapy, they reinfuse him with the stem cells to rejuvenate his body and help build up his white blood cells.

"They use the term 'rescue.' It 'rescues' you when they reinfuse you with the stem cells," Strebe said. "It is quite the process and takes a lot out of you. I like to say they kill you only to bring you back to life."

Strebe is between rounds and will start his second Thursday. He said Einhorn told him this method of treatment was his only chance for a cure.

Like Armstrong had LIVESTRONG, Strebe has come up with his own theme to help him through the cancer and treatments -- GODSTRONG.

He said it is ironic that he developed the saying before he decided to be treated under Einhorn.

He came up with the theme "because he feels that, ultimately, God will heal him of his cancer, not the medicine, not the doctors and not his own strength," Donna said.

MAKING A COMEBACK

Before every day of treatment, Strebe reminds his children and his wife that he is fighting this cancer for them.

"And that's true," he said. "I truly am fighting this for them."

But Strebe also has some people fighting for him.

Following his theme, family friends created T-shirts that say GODSTRONG and sold more than 1,000 of them to raise about $20,000 for the family. But the shirts were for more than fundraising -- they encourage the Strebe family and let them know the community is behind them.

About 100 students and teachers at Hilton Head Christian Academy wore their shirts Friday in support of Strebe. They said it is the least they can do for a man who has inspired them all.

"Even though he was going through cancer, he was always asking and wanting to know about us," said Academy teacher and friend Shannon Smith. "All the support we see and hear about is a testament to him."

While Strebe was open about his battle, many students who had him as a middle-school PE teacher said they would have never known otherwise that he had cancer.

"He was constantly smiling," junior Hannah Reynolds said.

"He was always so humble and would think the best of any opportunity or situation he was in," junior Chloe Strickland said.

And whether he will beat the cancer for a second time isn't really a question to those who know him.

"He's beaten it already with his mentality, attitude and faith," said Academy teacher Doug Langhals. "Now the physical side will follow."

Strebe and his family said they feel the same way. He hopes his family will be able to return to Beaufort County by the end of October -- in time to take his kids out for Halloween.

He said he will return to work.

"All of the support I've gotten certainly gives me a strength that maybe otherwise I wouldn't have," he said.

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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