Senior triumphs despite loss and adversityMay 9, 2012

Rebekah and Jake Franzel


For Rebekah Franzel, Saturday’s commencement ceremony represents more than just a walk across that prestigious stage. It ends a long journey, full of peaks and valleys that made up the undergraduate experience for the St. Louis senior.

Franzel came to Rockhurst University in the fall of 2008 and immediately immersed herself in all that the campus had to offer. She was sailing through her first semester finals when she heard the news: her 15-year-old brother, Jake, had a tumor.

After a series of tests, Jake was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a type of bone cancer. He began chemotherapy in spring 2009, and Franzel drove back to St. Louis every weekend to be there for him.

“At first, all I could think about was that I needed to transfer to a college closer to home,” said Franzel. “But Jake urged me not to do so and motivated me to keep plugging away at my classes and other activities.”

That’s just what Franzel did. Although she continued to make the four-hour drive home nearly every weekend, she tried to get involved at Rockhurst as much as possible.

In addition to her 18-hour semesters, Franzel helped start Rockhurst’s pre-law fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta, serving as vice president, represented Rockhurst as a student ambassador, and was even president of the student senate in 2011-12. She also worked 20 hours per week as a litigation file clerk at Lewis, Rice & Fingersh, L.C., all while preparing law school applications.

“I basically didn’t sleep,” she said. “But it was well worth it. Jake gave me my drive and always told me how much he believed in me. Each weekend, when I drove home, I would spend the nights in the hospital to give my parents a break. It was great to spend that one-on-one time with him.”

After three years, Jake lost his battle with cancer on Jan. 27, 2012, but not after leaving a huge legacy.

During his treatment, Jake and his team of supporters, called Jake’s Crew, raised more than $25,000 to further cancer research. His impact didn’t stop there.

This summer, before heading off to Saint Louis University for law school, Franzel will be busy writing grant proposals to fund an initiative put forth by Jake before his passing: to provide iPads to high school students with cancer, helping them stay connected to their classes and friends during treatment.

Franzel credits her fellow students, and the Rockhurst faculty and staff for their support as she juggled this tragedy on top of her course work and extracurricular activities.

“I frequently had to rush out of town when Jake would take a turn for the worse,” said Franzel. “Freshman year, I was taking my last final before summer break when I got a call that Jake had an emergency. My friends helped me load my car at 6 a.m. so I could leave immediately after my 8 a.m. final.”

Franzel said the faculty was instrumental in keeping her sane.

“If I needed to leave class, they told me not to worry about it until I came back,” Franzel said. “This allowed me to balance my emotions and keep my focus where it needed to be.”

This summer, in addition to her work with Jake’s Crew, Franzel is following in her brother’s footsteps and volunteering at Camp Rainbow – a two-week sleep-away camp for children with cancer.

“He volunteered there as a camp counselor while he was sick,” she said. “He was and is my role model, and always told me I was his. I’ll be walking across that graduation stage not only for myself, but for Jake as well. He’ll be there, encouraging me just like he always did. And he’ll have the best seat in the house looking down from above.”

Visit to learn more about the Jake's Crew initiative through Friends of Kids With Cancer.

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