Jack Guarino, a member of the class of 2017 at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, will attend the University of Notre Dame this fall.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Jack Guarino, a member of the class of 2017 at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, will attend the University of Notre Dame this fall.

Jack Guarino’s freshman year at Gonzaga College High School in Washington began a bit differently than planned. Two weeks after Christmas, an MRI revealed that he had an inoperable brain tumor that was blocking his third ventricle from draining, creating a fluid build up called hydrocephalus. Just a few days later, he had surgery to correct that problem, but the tumor remained.

Six weeks later, another MRI revealed a second tumor. Guarino had two biopsies to try to determine whether the tumors were benign or malignant, but both were unsuccessful. For a while, he was unsure what was happening.

While he was in Children’s Hospital, Jesuit Father Stephen Planning, the president of Gonzaga, and one of Guarino’s teachers, Brian Konzman, came to visit him and pray with his family.

“I always knew Gonzaga was a unique place, but that was when it hit me,” said Guarino. Over the years at Gonzaga, he said he has grown to see God more in his daily life.

“I see God in the little things people did for me,” he said, noting the people whom he didn’t know well who reached out to him, either in class or outside of school.

His sophomore year, Guarino was not doing well academically, and he is usually a straight-A student. When he got his exams back, he realized “This is not who I am.” He now recognizes that he was struggling with depression from not being able to talk to people his age who had been through a similar experience.

“My doctors were fantastic, but I never met a patient close to my age,” he said. “That can lead to the psychological issues I experienced.”

One of the things that helped him get through his medical difficulties was his junior year Kairos retreat with Gonzaga. This past year, he was on the retreats team to help plan the retreat, and gave a talk on the importance of knowing who you are.

The brotherhood that he formed on that retreat and throughout his time at Gonzaga has been important to Guarino. Some of his friends and their parents started an “Eagles for Hope” team as a part of the annual “Race for Hope,” to raise money for brain cancer research.

“The hard moments are when you see what the community is about,” he said. “Gonzaga really shines when there are moments of struggle.”

Because of the support he received and the school’s emphasis on serving others, Guarino describes Gonzaga as a “community of love.” When he is driving around and sees one of the stickers with the big purple “G,” Guarino said, “you know that person has my back.”

“You wouldn’t expect…stereotypical guys talking about love, emotions and feelings,” he said, but the nearly 1,000 boys who attend Gonzaga do.

Fortunately, his tumors have not grown over the past few years, and Guarino has gone on to become an advocate for people having similar experiences to him. He is now a young adult ambassador for Teen Cancer America, where he advocates for hospitals to have age appropriate care for teens and young adults. Often, people of this age group are treated at children’s hospitals with Disney princesses on the walls and asked, “Do you want a sticker?” after their appointment, which Guarino said can make them feel disconnected from their peers.

To help with this, Guarino works with hospitals to get patient navigators, who counsel patients and can connect them with other people going through similar difficulties, and to create areas in hospitals designated specifically for teens and young adults.

“I can see God in where I am now,” he said. “I never would have imagined [I’d be] in the spot I’m in now.”

Guarino has grown close to his pediatric neurosurgeon, who has inspired him to want to become a doctor. In the fall, he plans to attend the University of Notre Dame and is interested in studying biology, healthcare management, and psychology.

“I think it is hard to graduate Gonzaga without that sense of character – who you are as a person and what you’re called to do,” he said.