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A wish to fish for young cancer victim


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Calendar features Pozniak
By Chris Thompson, Falls Daily Journal

John Pozniak has a face that will be seen across the state, and even the nation, but most will probably not be able to recognize him in the picture.

The photograph of a slightly younger and hairless Pozniak -- a stark contrast to the young man currently donning shoulder length blond hair -- is featured in a montage of photos inside the front and back covers of the first-ever 2005 Make-A-Wish Minnesota calendar. The calendar is being released as a promotional piece as well as fund-raising effort and gift to sponsors for the non-profit group which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, including the soft-spoken 18-year-old International Falls native.

"His cancer diagnosis certainly was a life-threatening illness," John's father Randy said.

Neither John or Randy knew the calendar was being produced until they received three of them in the mail.

The calendar spotlights one child each month with a short biography and story about the wish each was granted. Even though John wasn't highlighted on a specific month, he said it is nice, and surprising, to be recognized.

"I was honored to be on there," John said. "Especially since it's nation-wide."

John was granted his No. 1 wish -- chosen from a list of about 10 -- in summer 2001, and he is pictured in the calendar cruising across a calm lake in a brand new boat.

"Because we live on the lake and a lot of his friends live on the lake ... one of his wishes was a boat and motor," Randy said.

John's cancer diagnosis came one year before Make-A-Wish Minnesota granted his wish of owning a boat.

"I was shocked because it could happen to anybody," John said. "I was scared, very scared."

Believing he had suffered a back strain, John went to the hospital where he was told he had pneumonia. The diagnosis quickly changed when X-rays detected a tumor between his heart and left lung. The back pain was brought on because the tumor was pushing his lung outward and his back muscles were attempting to hold it in place.

"It was the day after that I started chemo," John said.

"From the time when we got down to the Mayo Clinic, within 24 hours, he had been operated on, had the problem diagnosed and started the chemo," Randy added.

The first year of treatments required the Pozniak family to travel to Rochester's Mayo Clinic weekly, and at least once a month the second year of treatments. Dozens of blood transfusions as well as 22 spinal taps were part of John's treatments. John finished his chemo treatments in July of 2002.

"Now he just has annual checkups and they have all been really positive," Randy said. "Every checkup since he has ended his chemo has been just excellent. No traces of any cancer cells or tumors at all any more. We think we are very fortunate."

John, despite missing the better part of his freshman and sophomore years at Falls High, graduated in June and is working full time at Rainy Lake One Stop before starting classes at Rainy River Community College in the fall.

Because of his success with his treatments and time spent in hospitals, he plans to transfer to the University of Minnesota, Duluth after his two years at RRCC and study pre-pharmacy.

"(The cancer) made me look towards medicine and that route, that field," John said.

While in Duluth, he said he will have to leave his boat with his parents in the Falls. "Lake Superior might be a little rough," John joked. "There's always the summers, though. I'll be back."

And he makes no quips about his long hair.

"I've maybe cut it a couple of times, but that's about it," he said. "I'm going to grow it out because I haven't had hair for a couple of years."

John has his next annual checkup in late August, but both he and Randy said they try not to let it worry them.

"(The cancer has) been cleared for a long time, and it's still in the back of my mind, but I don't let it get to me," John said. "I just take one day at a time and enjoy every moment."

For more information on the Make-A-Wish Foundation visit www.wish.org. To purchase a 2005 calendar featuring John, call 763-571-9474 or e-mail [email protected]

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