This 10-part series highlights the 2021 McGowan Courage Award nominees. Brought to you by the Mansfield Rotary Club.
SHELBY – Jessica Long was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February of 2020, right in the middle of her junior year at Shelby High School.
Although this news came after Long had felt ill for some time, a cancer diagnosis was the last thing she or her family expected to hear.
“It came out of nowhere, because I was previously stressing about college courses and just finishing off my junior year strong,” Long said. “It definitely hit me like a bus and kind of instantly changed my perspective and rearranged my thoughts.”
Long had to drop her classes and spent the next several months driving to Cleveland for radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Most of her treatments took place between February and June of 2020, coinciding with the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
While her peers were focusing on college plans and getting ready for their senior year, Long’s energy was expended on battling cancer.
Despite the challenges of those months, Long remembers continually finding ways to focus on the positive.
“I got through it mostly with a sense of humor, and just laughing through every experience–just trying to find something funny to laugh about and kind of distract myself during the process,” Long said.
This sense of humor and optimism inspired many of those who know Long, including the staff at her school. She is the 2021 recipient of the McGowan Courage Award at Shelby High School because of her courageous spirit in this experience.
“When students battle health issues of any kind, it is sobering. Jess’s experience had another impact—it was inspiring,” Andrew Guertler, one of Long’s teachers, said. “Jess has enriched me as I have watched her navigate circumstances beyond her control and has reminded me, as well as her classmates, that defeat is just one option when facing difficulty.”
When the first semester of Long’s senior year began, she and her family chose virtual learning while she continued to heal. This decision meant missing out on a lot of things in her senior year, including her role in the marching band. She focused on taking advanced placement classes in order to continue her path to graduate on time with her class.
Long’s health continued to improve, and she slowly began doing more things outside of her house. In January, she walked back into Shelby High School to finish her senior year.
“It is great to see her walk the halls each day and she reminds us all about how important a positive attitude and prayer are in our lives,” Shelby High School Principal John Gies said.
“To have courage is to have the mental or moral strength to persevere and withstand difficulty. Those words seem to have been written for Jessica,” he said.
Long feels excited and honored to be awarded with the McGowan Courage Award.
“At least in my experience, it was having the optimism and the will to keep going and keep a smile on my face as I was going through everything,” Long said of what courage means to her.
The experience of battling cancer last year also led to a major perspective shift for Long, who says she was previously very caught up in the details of life and schoolwork.
“Now I definitely see that most of these things are just temporary worries and you shouldn't get so worked up over them, so I've definitely calmed down a lot more and just realized that some things are more important than others,” Long said.
In the fall, Long will attend Bowling Green State University and major in marketing. She hopes to use her creativity and analytic mind in her future career.
“We all wish Jessica well and we know that she will be able to overcome any adversity life throws at her,” Gies said.
The 2021 McGowan Courage Awards are supported by these sponsors:
Park National Bank
North Central State College
Mansfield Art Center