Testicular cancer — the most common cancer for males 15-35 — is 95 percent curable if caught early enough.
Such a statistic is one that sticks with former lawyer Nancy Balin, who, in October 2010, faced the loss of her stepson, Jaimeson Jones, who died of the disease. He was first diagnosed at a late stage when he was a student at Skyview Middle School in Bothell. It went into remission, then came back four and a half years later.
Jones was 20 years old when he died.
What stays with Balin is that Jones had noticed that something was wrong early on, but was too embarrassed to say anything. He confided in a friend rather than his family about his concerns initially.
“When I talk to parents, or anybody — guys, girls — I can legitimately, honestly say that Jaimeson died of embarrassment, because there’s really no other reason to die of a 95 percent curable cancer,” Balin said. “What he did was — and I’ve had guys tell me this: ‘Yeah, my plan was to just keep waiting for it to go away’ — and that’s what he did. He just kept waiting for it to go away.”
“We’re nuts about saving guys’ lives.” So goes the tagline for the Family Jewels Foundation, a nonprofit Balin founded in the fall of 2017. Through education peppered with jokes (there are 25 euphemisms for balls, Balin noted) and through a scholarship program, the nonprofit seeks to do a couple of things: prevent unnecessary death by testicular cancer and offer relief to families who have been financially strained by cancer treatments.
Although the foundation itself only recently formed, Balin’s efforts to spread awareness go back further than that. Notably, this year marks the Family Jewels’ 10th annual PieK, a running event that raises money for the Jaimeson Jones Memorial Scholarship, which benefits the siblings (or “shadow survivors”) of those who have endured cancer treatment.
Before he died, Jones had asked that his college savings go to his sisters. Balin also noted that while there are many scholarships benefitting youths who have gone through cancer treatment, there are not as many that impact their siblings, who are lastingly affected, too.
Per usual, the event is set for March 14 — Jones’ birthday. While the 5k trail run is the main event, participants can also opt to go on a one-mile walk or simply hang out and eat pie — the latter of which Balin refers to as the 0k.
Balin said the 5k was incepted at Jones’ celebration of life through an announcement — one she doesn’t remember making. Balin was told that when she grabbed the microphone amid a succession of tributes, she shared that she would be endowing a scholarship, have a 5k every year at St. Edward’s State Park (track-and-fielder Jones’ favorite place to run) and that it would be happening on the anniversary of his birthday.
The first run — at the time called the Jaimeson Jones Memorial 5K — saw about 42 attendees, pretty much totally encompassing friends, family, coaches and teachers congregating in the pouring-down rain.
It has grown since then. For 2020, Balin is shooting to attract 250 participants (about twice what the run usually attracts). Her dream, though, is to sell out the park.
Every person who registers gets a personal-sized pie in their swag bag (or “nut sack”); there will also be pies for sale at the event.
“I would love it to be big,” Balin said.
Through fundraising efforts — which is also supported by a Kenmore-based pub crawl (the “Ball Crawl”) — the foundation has been able to award a total of five scholarships over the years, two of which were supported by the Washington State University Foundation. The most recent recipients were three students of the Northshore School District, who are currently college juniors. Having committed $40,000 to the three families, each student gets a specified amount based on need annually.
Balin noted, though, that the foundation is still in the process of raising enough money for future scholarship grantees.
“Since we took these guys on, we have not offered it again,” Balin said. “The last two years, when the Scholarship Foundation of Northshore [which administers the scholarship to Northshore students] has asked, ‘Are you offering another one this year?,’ I’ve had to say ‘no,’ because I’m committed to these guys, these families, for the $40,000 until we get more funding, more sponsors…We can only do a little teeny bit at a time, which is painful because there are a lot of kids out there that have been through what Jaimeson’s sisters have been through.”
Balin hopes that in the course of the new decade, the Family Jewels Foundation will raise awareness of testicular cancer so it is as ubiquitous in the public consciousness as breast cancer awareness.
At the moment, Balin’s efforts are mostly local, with fundraising events and rotary club and health class drop-in predominantly focusing around town.
There are some additional breakthroughs the foundation has seen that Balin noted. At Cascadia College, for instance, she successfully coordinated getting educational testicular cancer boards put up in mens’ restrooms. She has heard firsthand from two men who had interacted with the foundation who sought medical help because of what they had learned from Balin and company.
But Balin ultimately wants the nonprofit to have a national reach eventually.
“I would like to literally keep guys from dying,” Balin said, adding, “The dream would be to really, really saturate — starting locally, statewide and just bigger and bigger, reach as many guys as we can, so nobody dies of testicular cancer. Nobody should be dying of testicular cancer. It’s ridiculous. It’s not necessary. It’s not. It’s due to ignorance and embarrassment. Those are lousy reasons.”
For more information about the PieK, go to the Family Jewels Foundation’s website (https://bit.ly/3cn1NtB). To contribute to the nonprofit, go to its donation page (https://bit.ly/398cGx3).