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Queen of Apostles church family rallies around boy fighting cancer

Dec. 5, 2012

Michael "Phin" Jensen is fifth-grader at Queen of Apostles School in Pewaukee.

He loves all kinds of sports: running, cross country, flag football, basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball.

He's kind and inclusive. He might not understand the concept of bullying, but he knows that he doesn't like it if other people are left out.

He likes to go hunting with his dad, and he really wants an ATV for Christmas.

He's taken guitar lessons for a couple of years and the song "Snake Charmer" is his favorite to play.

He's a Boy Scout. He keeps Kit-Kats in his camouflage backpack.

He loves Lego Star Wars. But really, any kind of Lego.

And he has a brain tumor.

Phin, 11, was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) on Aug. 20. He had been getting headaches and throwing up intermittently throughout the night. His memory has been awful since August. An MRI revealed that he had cancer and showed a tumor in his head.

Donna Jensen remembers sharing the prognosis with her children, Phin, and his 9-year-old sister, Marie.

"Fifty-fifty is what I told her. Just because there's two choices," she said.

GBM is a malignant brain tumor, and it can occur at any age. It usually penetrates deep into the brain, making it difficult for the entire tumor to be removed by surgeons. It can affect parts of the brain that control speech, vision or motor functions, which also makes surgery risky. GBM tends to spread quickly within the brain and nervous system. Common symptoms, like headaches that are worse in the morning and improve during the day, seizures, mental or personality changes, nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, and vision problems, happen abruptly and without warning.

"The disease that he has is so random, and it's so rapid, and it's tough. It's just resilient… you go online and look for somebody - anybody - who's recovered from this. It's vacant. You can't find anybody, adults or children," Donna Jensen said.

The tumor was growing around his third ventricle and they had to put a long, thin tube (shunt) in his head to draw the excess fluid. He had 12 surgeries in five weeks because the shunt kept failing. He's had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and steroid treatments. One of his chemotherapy treatments was interrupted by a blood clot.

Doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers seek him out at Children's Hospital when he's there, just to "flutter around him" or spend their time with him. The Jensen couple brushed this off at first, thinking they did this for all the kids, but a nurse told them no.

Just Phin, she said.

"I can see through it with crystal clarity," Brian Jensen said, "He's making them feel better."

After practically living at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin for a month, things had quieted down. But just last week Jensen had some increased symptoms. The tumors are now in his spine, and he's in the first of three weeks of his radiation treatments.

"Just recently, he started praying for himself. Because he thought it was selfish (at first). So when we would go and pray, he would always pray for other people," Donna Jensen said.

Other people are giving back, too.

Relatives step in here or there to help out. Members of Queen of Apostles will stop by with a casserole or help arrange carpools. Donna Jensen's co-workers have been a godsend, too.

"My saving grace in all of this, and this is just so pervasive, is just being so grateful for what we have," Donna Jensen said.

She held her breath and dabbed her eyes before continuing.

"It's a horrible, horrible situation, but I really feel like I have - for people that play cards, they say - I have it in spades. All the trump cards, with my work, church, friends, family, you know?"

The school is organizing a spaghetti dinner for the family on Sunday, Dec. 9. The event is open to the public, and visitors can stop by the Church Parish Hall between 3 and 7 p.m. Adults are $10, seniors and children are $5 and those younger than 2 are free. There will be a silent auction at 6:30 p.m., and they're still accepting donations. All proceeds will help the Jensen family defray their medical expenses.

"It's an all-you-care-to-eat (meal). And we just want to come out and support Phin and his family as a church and school community," said Michele Toby, administrative assistant and organizer at Queen of Apostles.

Donations or encouraging messages can also be left at the Jensen's CaringBridge blog at It's free and easy to join the Caring Bridge community so you can keep tabs on the family. Also, if you have heard of any new treatments, regardless of the cost or location, the family has requested that you drop a line there, too.

North Shore Bank is also accepting donations at all locations. Checks should be made out to the Michael Phin Jensen Charitable Fund.

"He's a normal kid. He's anybody's son … He's the boy that every parent wants, don't you think?" Donna Jensen asked.


What: To help with Phin Jensen's medical expenses

When: 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9

Where: Queen of Apostles Church Parish Hall, N35 W23360 Capitol Drive, Pewaukee

Cost: adults $10, childrena and seniors $5, ages 2 and younger free

For more information or to donate, call (262) 691-2120 or visit

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