Just prior to his final quarter before graduation this spring from St. Anthony Village High School, Mason Hermes noticed a pea-sized lump on the side of his face. The lump prompted a trip to the doctor, who said to keep an eye on it, which Hermes did, but just two weeks later things had changed.
“I had a golf ball sticking out the side of my face,” Hermes said, while his mother, Jenny Kuykendall, concurred about the face-altering size of the lump, and how quickly it happened.
Hermes, 18, was diagnosed with Burkitts Lymphoma, Stage III, a fast growing cancer of the lymphatic system. A PET scan revealed the cancer had spread from his lymph node to his tonsils and pancreas, requiring immediate chemotherapy at Children’s Hospitals in Minneapolis.
Hermes said he had finished all the necessary requirements to graduate, so a spotty attendance record at school for that last quarter wouldn’t deny or delay his diploma. However, he would be missing out on the social aspects of school. It also turned out he was too exhausted to hang onto his jobs at St. Anthony’s Dairy Queen and Applebees working to earn money for college.
“It was just weird,” Hermes said, of having to leave both jobs. “It had almost become a normal life thing. ... Both of them were social things, I’d say, not just work.”
He began working at Dairy Queen when he was 15 and had worked his way up to shift leader by last fall, the highest position possible, and was about to make a move up at Applebees as well, before having to step away.
“The week we found out I had cancer was the week I was supposed to start my training to be a server,” Hermes said, growing quiet.
Working with his doctors, Hermes and his mother were able to schedule his chemotherapy (its worst side effects kicked in roughly two days after treatment) around two important end-of-the-year school events - prom and graduation.
For prom, Hermes and his date wore matching baseball caps embroidered with the lymphoma ribbon. Though he said he was exhausted for both events, he said graduation was the better of the two.
“To be honest, graduation day was more fun,” he said.
“I think it was a shock to everyone that he made it through. He used a cane to walk across the stage,” Kuykendall said. “It was really exciting that he was able to walk through, and everyone was up and cheering for him. It was a lot of fun.”
“Water works,” Hermes said, pointing at his teary-eyed mother.
As of midsummer, Hermes said he is done with chemotherapy and the lymphoma is in remission. He’s optimistic about its recurrence rate of only 15 percent.
“It is low, but it’s higher than I want it to be,” Kuykendall said.
Both Hermes and his mother agree that the support from the community has been huge. People organized to bring meals to their home every couple of nights, classmates organized to print T-shirts and in support of Hermes, they shot a photo that sits on the family’s fireplace mantle. A fundraiser was held at the St. Anthony Village Pub on June 28 to help cover his medical bills.
“Just the number of people [at the event] was amazing,” Kuykendall said.
“Literally, the entire place was full. You couldn’t walk in it once it was started,” Hermes added.
Soon, he will be back to work at Dairy Queen for short shifts, as he had been texting with his boss about picking up some hours. Come fall, he will work in Elk River coaching soccer, which he has played for 12 years, working with grade schoolers and middle schoolers. Hermes said he barely watched the World Cup, which coincided with much exhaustion and many hospital trips
“I’ve just been busy,” he said in an understated way.
Before work as a soccer coach, Hermes will travel to Dallas for a gaming convention, not as a video game player but as manager of Skyline Gaming, an “online e-sports competitive organization” that he runs. Skyline has more than 20,000 followers on Twitter. Hermes calls it “not huge but not small.”
Finally, for the spring 2015 semester, Hermes said he will start school at North Dakota State University in Fargo, pursuing a business degree. He said he chose to attend with his best friend while the two were sophomores in high school.
“I applied to one school and I got into one school,” he said.
Hermes and the friend won’t actually attend together because his buddy got a baseball scholarship elsewhere, but Hermes will be living in the business and engineering dorms with a handful of other friends. He said he had contemplated attending this fall to stick with the roommate he was assigned. The two of them had such similar interests that Hermes said he was “really a twin.”
“You’ll get a good (new) roommate,” Kuykendall said, “You’re easy to get along with.”
Beyond having his major locked in, Hermes said he wasn’t sure about what type of job he would pursue in in his post-university future, but he was definitely looking forward to an event in his near future.
“I’m excited to move out,” he said.
His mother was quick with a response: “Gee, thanks.”
To donate money to help pay for expenses related to Hermes’ diagnosis and treatment, go to www.caringbridge.org  and search “Mason Hermes.”
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.