Coach thankful for support during, after chemo

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jason Songer of Huntingburg, center, waves as a surprise drive-by parade passes his house on his last day of chemotherapy while his granddaughter, Alexia Petty, 9, of Princeton, Kentucky, left, his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Madison, 17, right, watch outside their home on Friday. "It's a little overwhelming," Jason said. "Everybody in the community's been so supportive. Just the text messages and the phone calls and what people have done to help out with our family while I have been going through this, it's unbelievable. It's indescribable." Jason was diagnosed with testicular cancer last October.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — It was a sunny Friday afternoon at the Songer residence, and Jason Songer was struggling to hold back tears as he walked around his front lawn and greeted passing cars in the street.

Friday was the last day of chemotherapy for the assistant football and softball coach at Southridge, who has been dealing with testicular cancer since October. Family members arranged for a parade after the 49-year-old’s last chemo session.

Cars met at Southridge High School before driving past his house, led by a vehicle with sirens. The whole thing was unbeknownst to Jason. Family members were all decked out in black T-shirts that read, “His fight is my fight,” with a purple ribbon on the front and the hashtag #SongerStrong on the back.

“I had no idea,” Jason said.

Jason, who is a supervisor at G&T Industries in Jasper, went to the doctor in October, thinking he possibly had a hernia. He underwent blood work and an ultrasound. Doctors told him they thought he had an infection, but he later found out it was Stage 1 testicular cancer. It has since progressed to Stage 2.

It took time for Jason to come to terms with the diagnosis.

“I was a little shellshocked, I would say,” he said. “I really didn’t know. To me, like most people, and I would say most people feel that way, I didn’t really know what cancer was. You knew, but you don’t have an idea of what it is until you have it, and it took a while for me to embrace exactly what I was going to go through and what I had to do.”

Jason’s treatment started on Feb. 24, and has included a week of chemotherapy — eight hours a day each weekday, with extra fluids on the weekends — followed by two weeks of no treatment, and then repeated.

“For his chemo treatment weeks, it really throws us all for a loop,” his wife Valerie said. “All of our schedules are off. They’re pretty much based around him.”

Kennedy Siddons of Huntingburg, 17, cheers as she passes the home of Jason Songer of Huntingburg during a drive-by parade on Jason's last day of chemotherapy outside his home on Friday.

Jason admitted that his last day of chemo on Friday was long. He’s hoping now that he can put treatment behind him and move forward.

He added that he is thankful for the family and friends that he has. They are the ones who have kept him going through all of this, and he’s been doing it all for them.

He’s not only had to fight cancer, but he has done so amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Valerie though, the pandemic coinciding with treatment added an extra layer of challenges.

“The first week of treatment, I was able to be with him,” she said. “I was able to go in and sit in the treatment room with him and hang out with him all day long, and after that, this pandemic took over. So, I’m not allowed to go sit with him anymore. So, he’s by himself all day long. That’s not something that we like at all. I have to drive him over every morning, drop him off, go pick him up every afternoon.

“So, it’s not been easy,” Valerie continued. “In a normal situation where I would be at his side the whole time, I’m not allowed to do that at this point. So, that’s really the worst part of all of this, I do believe.”

Valerie said her husband’s first treatment went well, but gradually got worse the next two times before improving on the fourth treatment. She noted that Jason has maintained good spirits through all of this, and learned that the family is all stronger than they thought they were.

“My husband is a fighter,” she said. “He’s not willing to give up in any way, shape or form. We went into this knowing that testicular cancer is a very curable cancer. The chances of it repeating itself are slim and none.”

Jason walked to the street to oblige another car after speaking to The Herald. The car had already passed the household once, but decided on an encore.

“We’re doing a second drive-by, just because we can,” the woman driver said with her window rolled down. “There’s not as many people behind us.”

The woman told Jason he has an “awesome support team.” One person who came out to support him on Friday was Raider assistant football coach Steve Winkler, who handed him a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Jason’s son, Brayden, 16, also rode through the parade and surprised him.

Alexia Petty, 9, of Princeton, Kentucky, left, her grandmother, Valerie Songer of Huntingburg, sister, Eleanor Petty, 15 months, of Princeton, Kentucky, aunt, Maci Songer, 14, of Huntingburg, grandfather, Jason Songer of Huntingburg, mother, Kayla Songer of Princeton, aunt, Madison Songer, 17, of Huntingburg, and Kayla's boyfriend, Brandyn Petty, of Princeton, Kentucky, watch the surprise drive-by parade for Jason's last day of chemotherapy outside his home on Friday.

Jason’s daughters, Mikhaela, Madison and Maci, were the ones who decided to put on the parade. They came up with the idea last week, and Valerie, who pondered when she ever says “no” to her daughters, agreed to let it happen. Maci credited Madison for being the brains behind the parade.

“I’ve done it for my friends’ birthdays, several of them through this quarantine, and I think my mom shared something on Facebook about someone else having the same idea, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” Madison said.

Madison said she and her mom got a group together on Facebook, and also reached out on Instagram and Snapchat to invite people. Valerie said it didn’t take much. Just one ask and everybody was on board. Madison said she was proud of everybody who came through after her father persisted in this fight.

Madison extended her gratitude to those who brought a meal to the family and for their gesture on Friday. There was originally supposed to be a benefit for Jason on April 25, but that got postponed. Dinners were also postponed, and she’s hoping to have a summertime benefit to say thank you to everyone. She was taken aback by how the community has come out of the woodwork to go above and beyond ever since he began his treatment. Monetary donations flowed in in addition to the meals from community members. Valerie is hoping to give back and say thank you to them for their support.

Jason still has to have a CT scan on his abdomen and chest May 15 in Indianapolis to see if the chemotherapy did what it had to do, and if it didn’t, he will need surgery. If he isn’t cancer free, he’ll tackle it head on, just like he’s done with everything else.

“If I’m there on the 15th, and they say, ‘Hey man, it’s gone,’ it’s going to be amazing,” Jason said.




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