Cancer takes toll on Cottage Grove family: 'They're always fatal'

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - Ronnie and Jeff Nowak became parents to Justin Nowak in 1980.

Thirty years later, tragedy struck their family: Justin was at the hospital getting a colonoscopy for an ulcerative colitis he was diagnosed with just 5 years before when doctors found he had cancer.

"He was just full of tumors," his mom said.

It was caught early enough to remove, but 3 years later, the cancer was back.

"At Christmas time, they gave him 6 months," his mom said.

On April 4, 2013, Justin died at age 32.

"We were devastated," his mom said.

About a month later, the Nowaks noticed one of their grandsons, 6-year-old Trenton, had an eye that was drifting.

"He always wanted to do sports - hunting, fishing and stuff," said Jonathan Nowak, Trenton's dad.

But when they took Trenton to a doctor, tragedy struck the family again.

"We were kind of sitting there and thinking it was taking a long time," said Ronnie, Trenton's grandmother, "and then a pediatric doctor came out and told us he had a tumor."

Doctors sent results to OHSU and Doernbecher's Children Hospital in Portland.

"She came back in and told us it was pontine gliomas," Ronnie said, "and that they're always fatal.

"We didn't know what to feel," she said. "I mean I was numb. I'm still numb. I just can't believe it."

Doctors gave Trenton an option for radiation, which could possibly give him 6 more months to live.

But he'd have to be in a Portland hospital 5 days a week for 6 weeks straight.

"We talked to him," Ronnie said, "and he said no."

Trenton chose to live the last of his days at home with his family, including his little brother Chad.

"He knows. He won't talk about it, he won't say, but if you ask him if he knows what's going on - he does," Ronnie said.

Trenton told his family he wants to help others when he passes and become a donor..

"I'm just trying to make him happy," his father Jonathan said, "do the most he can for as long as he can."

"My own belief is that Justin went first because Justin knows people in heaven already, and he doesn't," the grieving grandmother said, "and he's waiting there to take him over."