“Jake basically put his whole life on hold for the last six or seven years while dealing with cancer,” explained Charlie Crull, a good friend of Jake’s. He continued, “no one would ever know what that’s like, until you actually experience it for yourself.”
Jacob Baver, a former Oyster River student, two-time soccer captain, Oyster River Paraprofessional, Varsity Soccer Coach, and aspiring writer has already made his mark on his childhood community of Durham, New Hampshire by the age of 25. The one glaring and defining point in Baver’s life was his medical trouble with cancer, something that detracted from more than six years of his life. Since he was first diagnosed in his freshman year in college, Baver focused on his coaching, writing, and relationships, instead of letting cancer define himself.
Baver entered Oyster River High School as a scrawny, fun-loving, and enjoyable person. As he progressed from a freshman to a sophomore, he left a wide variety of impacts on different people. Self-proclaimed as a goofball and someone that fit into every clique, Baver made sure each of his many relationships were meaningful.
Matthew Pappas, a former teacher of Baver and current social studies teacher at ORHS, agreed that, “he was studious, but he has a very extroverted personality. He liked to talk, goof around, and was the life of the party. He was the one that kept our [World Cultures] class really enjoyable.”
Despite leaving an positive impact on teachers at the school, Baver’s athletic relationships began on a sour note. Although a strong athlete and a intelligent person, his priorities were seemed to be placed on sports instead of school. “I know everyone looks really highly of Jake, but as a sophomore, he was almost academically ineligible to play,” said Charlie Crull, Baver’s former soccer coach. He noted that by nearly failing two classes his second year of high school, he put his team and personal ambitions on the soccer field at risk. “He ended up figuring it out, but I gave him a whole lot of grief as he was a player that I was looking forward to coaching and he almost put himself in jeopardy.”
This was a big turning point for Baver, in terms of maturity. Crull maintained that Baver was a solid student afterwards and by the time he was a senior, he was a “leader by example” both on and off the field. Matt Williams, (’19) one of Baver’s players, agreed, saying that as both a coach and an athlete, “when Jake was on the field everyone around him improved. He just attracts that type of energy.” Despite only having him for freshman year, Pappas kept a close relationship with Baver. “Whenever I saw him throughout the next three years, I would always talk to him. He’s the type of person that if you stop and talk to him, he’ll carry on a conversation, as just a warm, fun-loving guy.”
When he graduated, Baver planned to leave the Oyster River community. He thought that, “as a decently intelligent dude, I was going to go to college. I had a plan as to what I wanted to do; I wanted to be a high school English teacher.” He ended up being accepted into the University of New Hampshire, looking to pursue and educational career in writing. He didn’t know it at the time, but his entire senior year he was sick.
“It’s almost impossible to not be thinking about being sick. Whether you mean for that to be the case or not, whether you try the best you can to think about the other aspects of real life, it’s very omnipresent. Everyone you know is going to ask you about it, not in a way that’s annoying (because people care about you), everyone’s going to think about that when they think of you, and it’s hard not to feel like it completely takes over your identity.” – Jacob Baver
Baver explained that he, throughout the soccer season, was expecting more of himself, but in both sports and school he was exhausted. “It wasn’t the kind of thing where it was an immediate impact, so much as just over time I was feeling very worn down and fatigued all the time.” He entered his first year of college, and received his first diagnosis for cancer.
“My cancer is pretty rare. It’s called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH). The doctors told me the likelihood of being diagnosed with it is two in a million,” Baver explained. LHC is known for causing lesions or tissue damage in different organs, both externally, in the eyes and skin, and internally, with the entirety of the Central Nervous System and lungs to name a few. Mutations in certain genes in dendritic cells (cells that fight infection) cause them to multiply. The buildup of these cells results in the damage of other organs, creating tumors. The reason behind the initial mutation is unknown, as the disease isn’t caused by an infection, isn’t contagious, nor is it inherited.
While the doctors never said it would be the end of his life, they didn’t have a lot of information from prior cases to give him any outlook of what was going to happen.
“You really, in times like that, realize how important it is to have people that care about you. Otherwise, I don’t know how people get through it. There’s enough physical, mental, and emotional strain involved in doing those treatments, that if you were to say, ‘I think I’m going to go it alone,’ I don’t know how you could.” Family was one of the most important factors in Jake’s progression through cancer and chemotherapy. He noted, “there are just times when you need to lean on people physically and lean on people emotionally.”
Apart from help from his family, Baver used his interests and outlets to get through cancer. Writing, a major passion of his, proved to be one of his favorite things to focus on. Pappas explained that Baver had always avidly pursued writing, and as one of his students he saw the extent of his work. “He’s an amazing writer, that was evident right from day one. He could write like no other student I’ve had.”
The other significant passion of his, soccer, was something that both carried him out of sickness and led to his future after cancer. In looking to his former coach and former team, Baver found in a pastime of his, a way to play and coach the sport he loved. Crull noted, “coaching was massive for him. Cancer was the worst nightmare, not with the thought of, ‘am I going to die?’ but more that he wanted to be treated like a normal person and not worried about. He loathed the ‘how are you feeling today?’”
Baver noted that he had, “in an unhealthy way, buried the fact that I was a cancer survivor three times. Now I can see that I didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want people to know that it was a part of me, that cancer became far more of a part of my identity than accepting it.
Pappas continued, “one thing Jake really focused on was not letting [cancer] define him. He carried on as the same guy he’s always been, and always had a smile on his face, joking around, even when he was sick. He always looked at the positives in life. Cancer was his setback, but there’s so much more in life to enjoy while having that aspect.”
The three major obstacles in Baver’s life, his three bouts with LCH, proved to be the events that attest to his ability to overcome adversity. He has shown his determination and perseverance throughout his medical ordeals, and his interests have both pulled him out of cancer and led into his future.
The turning point from Baver’s sickness into his profession lied with his former coach Alongside working an afterschool program for elementary school children, Crull invited Baver back to his coach his former team.
Crull explained that, “when I asked him to come and coach, I was basically at rock-bottom. I had basically lost the program, and the values that I wanted the program to be.” Crull, in all of his 200+ wins as a high school soccer coach, began with the bare foundations of the program. Baver was the person who helped construct the mentality that surrounds the sport at ORHS now: Crull described that, “when I brought him in, he was one of the instrumental pieces in helping establish what the program became and what it is today.”
As a coach, Baver gained the respect of the players. By being younger and relating to the team, and by practicing alongside the group to work them, he proved his worth as a coach and pushed the program forward. He would take on the most difficult team members and work with the team as a whole despite his condition. “He would come in, sometimes green in the face, and some days you could tell he was in writhing pain, and he would get right to work,” Crull noted.
Williams explained, “Jake invests all of his time and energy to create a bond with each player on the team. I’ve never had a coach more dedicated and committed to the program, but also each singular person and aspect of the team.”
Baver then began to work as a paraprofessional for the school, where he continued to make an impact on the Oyster River community. “His personality is perfect to work in a school. Working with kids, to engage kids, to get the best out of them, I knew that by working with just one student, he would really give his all for that student,” said Pappas. “Even in a class of 22 kids, he may work with one child, but he became a part of the class, and really had a positive impact on everyone around him.”
In January of 2019, Baver left Oyster River High School, both as a coach and a paraprofessional. He is currently working at Flatbread Pizzeria in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and is planning on attending a creative writing program in New England. He is going to pursue writing as a career, despite entering UNH with the plan of becoming an English teacher and previously working as a paraprofessional. By working at Flatbread and leaving ORHS, he has the freedom to work on writing fictional pieces that he hopes will get published. “No matter who he’s around, he’s going to make an impact,” explained Pappas. “It’s sort of a blow for the kids here at Oyster River, but on the other hand, he’s young, he has a career to look forward to, and will do bigger and better things. I know he will be nothing but successful in his future.” Baver expanded that, “to quit this area, is extremely bittersweet, but being a para was never an end goal. So now, in working at the restaurant, I can research, write, edit, and meet with people in the writing community, all of which will, hopefully, one day mean I’m published.”
– Quinn Wilson