From the time he could crawl, Jaxon Schoenberger loved sports.
His parents say it was fitting that the little athlete’s first word was “ball.”
“All day every day, it was sports,” said his father, Tyler Schoenberger. “He wanted to practice baseball constantly or throw the football for hours. He was high-energy but not wide open where you couldn’t get a handle on him. He just wanted to play.”
By the time he was 2, Jaxon was tuning into ESPN2 and rattling off baseball stats and players’ names to his dad.
“He knew statistics that other people didn’t even know,” his father said.
On a visit to Boston to watch the Cubs play, Jaxon piped up when a cab driver started talking about how he was from the Dominican Republic.
“That’s where Big Papi is from,” Jaxon told the driver, his father recalled. David “Big Papi” Ortiz happened to be one of Jaxon’s favorite professional baseball players.
Schoenberg said his son “was just very extraordinary when it came to things he really had a passion for.”
The Schoenbergers grieve when they think about their first-born son and big brother to Owen, four years his junior.
“Jaxon was just so alive,” said his mom, Salena Schoenberger.
Jaxon was a first-grader at Magnolia Park Elementary when he was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG.
Jaxon battled the disease for eight months before his death on Halloween 2014, just a few days shy of his seventh birthday.
Jaxon is among three Ocean Springs children diagnosed with DIPG in the last eight years.
One of the children — 7-year-old Sophia Myers — is currently battling the disease.
When Jaxon’s parents heard about Sophia, they were devastated.
“I couldn’t believe this was happening again so soon and so close to home because DIPG is supposedly so rare,” Salena Schoenberger said.
Maybe, his dad said, “it’s luck of the draw.”
They just don’t know.
Losing a son
Just down a hallway of the Schoenberg home is Jaxon’s room, the one his parents put together after they moved from the home where Jaxon died.
“I couldn’t stay there,” his mother said. “Too many memories.”
His room is filled with autographed footballs, baseballs, jerseys and other mementos that local, collegiate and professional ball players gave him during his illness.
Jaxon picked out the bedding — purple and gold and all things LSU. The fighting tigers were his favorite team.
Like other children diagnosed with DIPG, Jaxon’s diagnosis came after symptoms started to surface.
For Jaxon, it was excruciating headaches and nausea.
Doctors diagnosed Jaxon with DIPG on March 4, 2014, a short time after he started crying because his head hurt so bad he wanted to leave an Ocean Springs Mardi Gras parade.
“It just blindsides you,” his father said.
Jaxon was treated with radiation, oral chemotherapy and clinical trial drugs at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
He did so well with the treatment, his parents thought he’d be the child to beat DIPG.
“When you learn it’s DIPG, I feel like you have to cling to any hope that you get,” Salena Schoenberger said.
But Jaxon’s tumor spread with a vengeance.
“The whole thing about DIPG in general is you have to watch your child ... gradually lose their ability to do everything,” his mother said, until they lose their ability to communicate altogether.
“It is the hardest way you can watch your child because you have to watch them suffer, like you don’t have a choice,” she said. “You have to watch them suffer.”
Jaxon’s baby brother, Owen, turned out to be a “lifesaver” for the family, his father said, “because we had to be parents still.”
The brothers had a special bond.
“Owen’s first steps were not to me and Salena,” Tyler Schoenberger said. “It was to Jaxon. They had a bond that was very, very strong even though they had a short time together.”
His first kiss
Through tears, the family tries to focus on the good times, like the story about Jaxon’s first kiss in preschool.
Jaxon was grinning from ear-to-ear when his Paw-Paw picked him up from preschool that day.
Jaxon told his grandfather he had to tell him something but it was a secret that had to wait until they got to his grandfather’s truck.
Jaxon’s secret was his first kiss. He said the teacher didn’t catch him because he was under a table. He kissed her and “she kissed me back,” he told his parents.
By the time he was in kindergarten, he had another girlfriend and soon after was caught showing off a necklace to an older friend to see if it was nice enough to give a new girl he liked.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, are you 6 or are you 18?’” his mom said. “That was just Jaxon.”