Shrewsbury student perseveres against leukemia, COVID-19, other challenges


By Cindy Zomar, Education Coordinator

Shrewsbury student perseveres against leukemia, COVID-19, other challenges
Jonathan Tomashefsky is a student at Plymouth State University.(Photo/Cindy Zomar)

SHREWSBURY – For Shrewsbury’s Jonathan Tomashefsky, the President’s List honor he earned at college this year was even more remarkable than normal. 

Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, awards students who achieve a 3.7 or higher-Grade Point Average (GPA) with the distinguished designation of President’s List. That’s a lofty goal for most. For Tomashefsky, though, the recognition carried extra weight as he suffered through bouts of COVID-19, sepsis and pneumonia in the last year, all while continuing to battle Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a diagnosis he has had since he was seventeen. 

Diagnosed with the cancer in December 2016 after a he saw a suspicious and unwarranted large bruise on his knee, Tomashefsky underwent a rigorous chemotherapy protocol. 

Generally, the kind of blood and bone marrow cancer Thomashefsky has attacks children and teens more often than adults. Positive results can often be seen with treatment, however. 

“There is never a good kind of cancer, but as far as being treatable, I guess I was lucky that this is what I had,” he said. 

Two and a half years into that treatment, Tomashefsky hit a speed bump on the road to recovery in August of 2019. 

Tomashefsky suffered a relapse of his leukemia. 

“When I relapsed, the treatments became more intense, and I was forced to be in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) for a couple of weeks,” he said.

There, he developed sepsis. 

“I also had targeted radiation therapy on my brain, and multiple lumbar punctures, but the staff at UMass Memorial and Dr. Grossman, my oncologist, were amazingly kind,” he said.

With a weakened immune system from the chemotherapy, Tomashefsky was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November of 2020, ending up with a case of pneumonia that put him in the hospital for over two weeks, just before Christmas. 

Once again, he battled through. 

“My fall professors were very understanding and allowed me to have extended due dates on some projects,” he said. 

For the first term of his sophomore year, Tomashefsky qualified for Dean’s List with a 3.5 GPA. He then pushed harder in his second term and, in spite of all his issues, managed seven credits and achieved the President’s List. 

He is majoring in Professional Communications with a minor in Global Health. His goal is to one day be a social worker in a hospital to give comfort and assistance to families going through similar trauma to his.

This coming fall, Tomashefsky will be a junior. He plans to be back at off-campus housing in Plymouth. 

In the meantime, he enjoys his job as a front-end cashier at Home Depot in Shrewsbury. 

“My manager and co-workers have all been so kind and helpful,” he said. “Even the customers have told me they are amazed at my perspective on life.” 

Though he said that all this has been hard emotionally and mentally, he maintains a positive attitude.

 “Sometimes, I think it is almost a blessing to go through hell at this young age because, later in life, if any friends have to go through something tough, I’ll be able to help them cope.”  

The next few months will see major changes in Tomashefsky’s life. This month, he will get to stop taking daily chemo pills. There will be no more weekly methotrexate doses nor monthly oncologist appointments. There will be a massive infusion to protect him against a rare form of pneumonia. Then, eventually, his infusion port can come out. 

Through all this, Tomashefsky’s support network has been beside him. In fact, one friend’s painting of boxing gloves sits prominently on the family mantel. The gloves, given as a gift to Tomashefsky, are painted orange, the color representing Leukemia. They represent the “Cancer Warrior,” Tomashefsky’s mother, Ann, told the Community Advocate.

“I am certain that God has a plan for Jonathan to help other families who are going through tough times like this,” Ann said.

As for Tomashefsky, he is ready to move forward.  

“I am excited to be alive and healthy, and cancer-free,” he said. “My advice to everyone is to spend as much time with friends, family, and loved ones as you can. You never know what tomorrow will bring.” 

No posts to display