Belle River teen's music helps him, and others, during months of chemotherapy
'I went into her room, and I started playing, and that's when she started to become herself again'
Last August, then 16-year-old Justin Jewell was playing gigs around Kingsville and Windsor.
While playing a show one Friday night, the Belle River teen was jamming with his guitar when he began to notice he wasn't feeling himself. He had developed an uncharacteristic headache, but otherwise felt okay. He played two more shows that weekend, but soon after ended up at Windsor Regional Hospital.
That's where, on Aug. 9, 2017, he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
"Really the only other thing I noticed ... I had started to develop bruising that I didn't know how I was getting," said Justin, who is now 17.
That's when Justin's journey of treatment began.
He spent four-and-a-half months in a London hospital and after two rounds of chemotherapy, his disease went into remission. The family then drove further up Highway 401 to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
After another round of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, the family spent more than two months in a Toronto Ronald McDonald House while Justin recovered.
Music played a big role
"It was an experience that I definitely grew from and met a lot of people," he said. But he didn't just meet people, he played for them.
"I would just play my guitar for the patients," he said.
I started playing, and that's when she started to become herself again.- Justin Jewell
Justin remembers one patient in particular.
"She's about three now, she had a stroke, and she wasn't doing the greatest," he said. "Until the day that I went into her room, and I started playing, and that's when she started to become herself again."
"I think Justin's music did help a lot of other kids, but it also helped him," said Lorraine Jewell, Justin's mom. "Just having that music and his guitar with him the whole time was really there to soothe him, and it brought so many other people into it."
Justin has several instruments, but his 12-string guitar was with him in both London and Toronto.
The family was finally able to bring Justin home on March 9, after seven months of treatment.
"He didn't complain. He made it as easy as your child could make it for you to deal with. We're really proud of him for that," said Justin's dad, Bill Jewell.
Justin still goes to London once per week for blood work. He's working on finishing up his credits so he can graduate from Belle River District High School this year.
His mom said he should be able to venture out a bit more once his immune system is stronger.
"He's already got a lot of people asking him to do shows this summer," she said. "He's ready to get back to life and move on."