As Michelle and Mike Beukema celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in Mexico last March, they received a frightening phone call from their son, Evan, then 20.
“I feel a bump by my collarbone,” Evan told them from their Caledonia, Michigan, home.
“I’m sure it’s fine, just wait ’til we get home,” Michelle told her son. “He’s a very laid-back kid, but he was concerned. He said he wanted to go to the doctor.”
The next evening, while Michelle and Mike dined at a resort restaurant, they got a call from Evan’s doctor.
Despite the doctor speaking clear English, the words, and concept, sounded so foreign: the lump looked concerning. He said a chest X-ray revealed more suspicious areas. And, he mentioned cancer.
“Fortunately, we were flying out the next day,” Michelle said. “I just wanted to get home that second.”
As Michelle and Mike sat on an airplane en route to Grand Rapids the next morning, Evan saw Beth Kurt, MD, a pediatric oncologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. He underwent more testing. Evan’s sister, Macy, and his fianceé, Emma, accompanied him.
After a biopsy, the family received a phone call with results and two words that would forever change their lives: Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It just kind of blew me away,” Evan said. “I tried to stay as positive as possible because that’s the only way you can really fight it. It was a big shock for sure. Part of me didn’t really believe it until the very last confirmation that it was cancer. I always expected it to not be.”
After all, he had always been healthy. An athlete. A wide receiver on his South Christian High School football team that won a state championship at Ford Field his senior year.
He loved football. He loved life.
How strange, at his age, that his biggest opponent could be death.
He started four rounds of chemotherapy treatments.
“We were pretty confident that after four treatments it would be gone and it wasn’t,” Michelle said. “That was almost like being diagnosed all over again.”
Evan continued with two more rounds of chemotherapy treatments, and 17 radiation treatments.
“He handled it so well,” Michelle said. “He never complained. He just had a really good attitude. He had this bracelet on before he was diagnosed that said, ‘Live grateful.’ He’s still wearing it now.”
Evan is grateful. The day after Thanksgiving, Dr. Kurt pronounced him cancer-free.
“There are no words to describe it,” Michelle said. “It was such a relief.”
These days, Evan is back to work full-time as a property manager.
And although he had no NFL aspirations after winning the state championship as a high school wide receiver, he found himself playing a role in this season’s NFL finale festivities when Hyundai officials invited him to be filmed for their Super Bowl commercial.
Although he didn’t appear in the final footage, he said he’d be thrilled if the car company featured him in future commercials.
“It would certainly make me happy if I could be a part of it,” he said.
Despite being a commercial no-show, Evan said he loved the up-close-and-personal look at the NFL’s biggest game.
“There was a big venue where they have a bunch of NFL stuff by where we shot the commercial,” he said. “They had a Super Bowl trophy and rings on display.”
But the best award in Evan’s eyes wasn’t the Lombardi trophy, but rather, the mission of the commercial.
“I think the point of the commercial is to raise awareness for young adults that have cancer,” Evan said. “It sounds like so much of the funding goes to older people with cancer and there’s not as much focus on young adults. Young adults have their whole lives ahead of them.”
Evan is looking forward to the life ahead of him. He’s engaged to his high school sweetheart. They plan to marry in July.
“I’m feeling really good,” Evan said. “It’s been great not having to go to the hospital. I’m just living life.”
Michelle is proud of her son, and his outlook on life.
“When you’re in the middle of cancer you’re just fighting it and you’re almost a little numb to it,” she said. “You can’t get emotional. You have to be strong for your kid. I think God just gives you that extra strength to get through it.”
During commercial filming, the interviewer asked Evan about the hardest part of his cancer journey.
“He said, ‘Seeing everyone around me affected by it,’” Michelle said. “He just wanted to be strong for everyone.”