Jesse Nash Lived His Young Life To The Fullest

By: Tim Wood

Jesse Nash with Firefighter Justin Tavano last December, when the 7-year-old was named the department's honorary chief. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – The community is mourning a young boy who showed great resilience and bravery in the face
of a rare disease.

Last week, 7-year-old Jesse Nash lost his four-year battle with neuroblastoma, a rare form of childhood
cancer. As residents prepare to say farewell to the child who maintained a cheerful outlook despite round after round
of treatment, friends and family remembered his full life and the delight he gave to others.

“He'll never be forgotten around here,” said Chatham Firefighter Justin Tavano, whose department took Jesse
under its wing and last December named him honorary chief.

Jesse had an infectious laugh and was very thoughtful, said his mother, Caroline Nash. He loved science and
technology and had recently announced that he was going to become a scientist and invent a spray that made things
invisible.

“He laughed at such simple things, it would just delight you,” she said. And while he could be humble and
cooperative, like anyone he had his limits. “He was not a pushover, for sure.”

Caroline and her husband Peter have formed the Jesse Nash Memorial Foundation to help local elementary
school students interested in science and technology through scholarships and other assistance. Because of the
support they felt from the community, they saw this as a way to give back in Jesse's name.

“It's given us a lot of joy, just in a short couple of days,” Peter said of establishing the foundation.

Caroline first noticed that Jesse's lymph glands were swollen in February 2014. At first both she and her
doctor thought it was strep, but when the swelling didn't go down, it wasn't long before cancer was diagnosed and
Jesse underwent his first round of what would be many chemotherapy treatments. At first the treatments seemed to
work, but two months later the cancer was back, and Jesse was diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma.

During the many rounds of chemo and radiation treatment at Dana Farber Boston Children's Cancer Center,
Jesse was “part of his own team,” learning all of the terminology and able to discuss his illness knowledgeably, his
parents said. But while the cancer remained a presence in his life, it didn't rule it.

“We were determined not to let this define his life,” said Caroline. “He was going to live his life despite
cancer.”

The family traveled to Mexico, where Jesse rode on a zip line through the jungle, snorkled in a cenote and
swam in the warm Caribbean, as well as Iceland, where he was able to see spectacular waterfalls and dip in
geothermal hot springs. He indulged his love of science and technology at the Air and Space Museum and the
Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., and he learned to ski and snowboard and ride a horse, emulating
his older sister Katheryn, whom he idolized.

Yet he remained a young boy with all the interests and joy that entails. He was a master at building Legos,
particularly enjoying vehicles like fire trucks, and he loved to go to the outer beach on a boat in the summer. His
parents said it was important to them to keep his life as normal as possible.

“He's got to be five or six and just watch his shows and play on the iPad,” said Peter. “I think he had a good
balance.”

Jesse had a close bond with all four of his siblings – older sisters Katheryn and Leah and younger brothers
Peter and Emmett – and as the middle child “kept everyone in the mix,” said Peter. He was friends with all of his
first grade classmates at Chatham Elementary School, where he could often be seen skipping down the hall, despite
rules against it.

“He had this hop and skip,” said Peter. “It was just a joyful thing,” added Caroline.
Chatham resident Amy McHugh developed a close bond with the Nash family because she knew what they
were going through. Her daughter, Emily, had earlier been diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

“The intensity of treatment is overwhelming, but all the other aspects are probably more so,” McHugh said,
referring to the stress on the entire family, with frequent trips to Boston and the needs of siblings, as well as the
emotional toll of watching a child go through such a grave illness.

“The fact that Jesse and his family were able to maintain that level of care and that Jesse was able to really
during that time have a full life” is a tribute to the family and their collective resilience, she said. “I honor them so much, because I know firsthand that that is so difficult, and they did it with such grace.”  

Emily has been cancer free since 2010, and she and her older sister Isabelle loved Jesse.  “He was always the little brother in the back seat,” McHugh said.

Nobody wants their child to be defined by a disease.  “That's not who they are. They're a kid just like your kid or anyone's kid,” said McHugh.  She credited the Nashes with giving Jesse a “beautiful life.”

Through their efforts to raise money for neuroblastoma research, McHugh and her husband, Shane Coughlin, also helped out Jesse, Caroline said.  He participated in eight different trial protocols that she believes helped extend his life. Because only about 800 children are diagnosed annually with neuroblastoma, “it's considered an orphan disease,” Caroline said, which means that it receives little research funding. The Nash family joined Team Emmabelle, which McHugh and Coughlin organized to raise money for research through the annual Jimmy Fund Walk.

The Nashes also credit Jesse's medical team with keeping him well enough during those four years to have the experiences that defined his life.  “Jesse fell in love with all of them,” Caroline said. Cape Cod Hospital also stepped in to handle some treatments to take the pressure off constant trips to Boston, and they said Jesse bonded with his Visiting Nurse, Ellen Brookhart, who “got him.”

“He was able to be himself in front of her,” said Caroline. “It was just a magical connection.”

The family developed a connection with the fire department after firefighters helped deliver Jesse's younger brother Peter at home.  In 2015 Jesse was honored in the annual April Fools Plunge that Tavano and Gerard Smith organize.

“That was one of our biggest years,” Tavano said.  The department welcomed Jesse any time to climb into an engine or just stop by and say hello.  Because he'd gone through so much, they decided to make him honorary chief. In a ceremony Dec. 17, department members wore their dress uniforms and presented Jesse with a fire hat and jacket on which was inscribed “Chief Jesse.”

Even though Jesse tended to be low key, his parents could tell that he was “blown away” by the honor.  “We all were,” said Peter.

“There was a bond, a real close bond, he had with those guys,” he said.  “He regarded them as fellow firefighters.” Tavano said Jesse reminded firefighters that no matter how divided people may be, “it's good to know people can be human, can be there to support each other regardless of whatever their division.” Firefighters escorted Jesse's body to the funeral home, and will be in dress uniform at his memorial service this Saturday.

Jesse always seemed to fill a room with his personality, and his family, and many in the community, are now dealing with that absence.

“I think we filled his seven years with a lot,” Peter said.

A service celebrating Jesse's life will be held this Saturday, March 17, at 11 a.m. at the First Congregational Church of Chatham.  Donations to the Jesse Nash Memorial Foundation can be sent to the Cape Cod Five Cents Saving Bank at 548 Main St., Chatham. Donations can also be made to help out current childhood cancer patients through the Jimmy Fund Clinic Activities Program, attention Lisa Scherber, 450 Brookline Ave., Boston, 02115.

Jesse Nash's obituary appears on page 18 of this edition.