Byron student overcomes great odds
Nathan Noonan, 15, wasn’t expected to be here this summer, says his dad Don Noonan, playing baseball like he has in years past.
So his dad attends every practice, never missing a moment.
“We weren’t sure we were ever going to see this again,” Don says.
Nathan was diagnosed in May 2019 with leukemia after having some persistent illness symptoms. His mom, Lisa, and Don had a bet going about what was the cause of Nathan’s symptoms, with one thinking mono and the other guessing Epstein-Barr. But in the end, it was far more serious for then 13-year-old Nathan.
Nathan had been experiencing fevers and weight loss, along with severe nausea, which prompted his dad to take him to Mayo Clinic for blood work to determine the cause of his illness. Lisa was on a road trip that day, picking up two of her daughter’s from Bible college in Indiana.
Don took Nathan to the doctor and was the one who got the call saying they should come in to discuss the test results.
“It was a scary drive,” Don says of he and Nathan’s 10-minute trip to Mayo Clinic to find out what was wrong. Don calls it a “dark moment,” when they first heard the word leukemia.
“I was passing through the Dells,” Lisa recalls, “and Don called me and he was real quiet and he said ‘Hon, I have to tell you something about Nate.’ He’s not a very serious person, my husband, and he was very grave and serious and he said, ‘It’s cancer.’ I stepped out of my mind for a minute. I had to pull the car over.”
The couple remembers that Don got the initial phone call from Mayo on May 2, 2019, and by the next day “they were telling us everything that was going to be happening,” Lisa says. “You don’t have time to think. You just start doing.”
Nathan then stayed in the pediatrics ward at Saint Marys Hospital for 30 days. An ardent Packers fan, he decorated his IV pole with a picture of Aaron Rodgers. He went through chemotherapy and was the first Mayo pediatric patient to undergo a Car t-cell transplant. Now that two bone marrow tests have been cancer free, Nathan is enjoying being in remission and back to regular life.
He likes 4-wheeling, hunting, fishing, working on cars and of course playing baseball. The Noonan family lives in Rochester but Nathan attends school in Byron and will be a ninth grader at Byron High School this fall.
Lisa describes Nathan as her ‘miracle baby.’ The couple has daughters Alexis, 25, Natalie, 23, Lenee, 22, and Candace, 21. Don and Lisa experienced one miscarriage after the girls, and one stillbirth at Rochester’s Methodist Hospital.
“I just didn’t have peace that I was done having children,” Lisa says. “Nathan Matthew means ‘gift of God.’ When I had him it was such a blessing from the Lord.”
“When you hear the word cancer, you think someone is going to die,” Lisa says. “You think this is how the story is going to end. All I could think of is this boy is a best friend to my husband. These two guys are kindred spirits. They are best friends. That’s what hurt the most, thinking that my husband and son would lose that.”
Nathan has received phenomenal community support throughout the last year, his parents say. The family’s church, Rochester Baptist, has also been a strong support during the family’s turbulent year, Don says.
Don, a pastor at Rochester Baptist Church, sold his motorcycle so he could buy Nathan a new 4-wheeler, which his son found in the garage upon his hospital discharge. He likes to go 4-wheeling in Kellogg and Chatfield.
The family always relied on their faith, with Nathan reassuring his parents that he would be fine. Lisa got 1,000 copies of a prayer request card and has handed out almost all of the cards.
The card says, in part, “Pray for Nathan Noonan. Diagnosed with leukemia. Job 23:10: ‘That he knoweth the way that I take and when he has tried me I shall come forth as gold.’”
Lisa said the family developed a reputation at the hospital for always using humor to lighten the mood. “Don knew how to make this kid laugh,” Lisa says. “People couldn’t believe it. They’d say, ‘Oh the Noonans, cutting up and being so silly.’”
As for Nathan, he wrote down some words that he wanted to share. They are:
“I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ. A little more than a year ago, I heard some of the scariest words a person could ever hear. It wasn’t as scary as it could’ve been because I knew the Lord was walking with me, step by step.”