Rancho Cucamonga elementary school principal beats rare cancer with 'superhero' help and support

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (KABC) -- It's been a year since Principal Jeff Sipos has been able to handout high-fives as he greets students and parents outside John L. Golden Elementary School in Rancho Cucamonga.

Last August, he had to hide behind a flu mask and refrain from hugs after he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

"I could hardly walk, I could hardly type. I knew something was wrong with what was going on inside of my body," said Sipos.

His first visit to an oncologist about the unrelenting pain did not result in relief.

"I'd been with an oncologist who said we don't treat this, and I basically said I need to have another oncologist tell me that," he said.

He went to get a second opinion from Dr. Muhammad Omair Kamal, an oncologist at Loma Linda University Cancer Center.

"The first words out of Dr. Kamal's mouth when he walked into the room, he said, 'Mr. Sipos, has anyone ever told you that you have cancer?' I was, like, all the oxygen left the room," recalled Sipos.

The blood cancer, Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia, is so rare that only 1,500 people worldwide are diagnosed with it each year.

"There are not many cancer or blood cancer in which you see these symptoms along with this high proteins," said Oncologist Dr. Muhammad Omair Kamal.

Fortunately, Dr. Kamal had treated five other patients with this rare disease and knew what to do. He told Sipos he needed to start chemotherapy immediately or risk losing his eyesight, kidneys and eventually his life.

Sipos decided to go public with his cancer diagnosis.

"We had an assembly where I showed the kids the mask that I'd be wearing and told them I would not be able to shake their hands, that I would not be able to do high-fives with them," said Sipos.

The families, students and staff rallied to support and encourage Sipos with calls, cards and gifts. One student, then kindergartener Jackson Todd, who with the help of his mom gifted Sipos with a Superman T-shirt.

"I just very simply told Jackson that Mr. Sipos is not feeling well. We need to do something special for him, so he can feel better," said Jackson's mom, Linda Frohlich.

Jackson encouraged Sipos to stay strong. The message and T-shirt carried Sipos through six months of intense chemotherapy.

"There was something about the Superman shirt. I thought I am going to wear this Superman shirt, and so I wore it to every chemo session," said Sipos.

This week, students returned to school and Sipos is back at it with high-fives and handshakes after beating the disease. He still wears a Superman T-shirt, but he gave his original one away.

"He gave it to me," said Dr. Kamal. "I also wear it sometimes under my work clothes."

Sipos says he is grateful for the support he received while battling cancer.

"I could not have expected the way this community would rally around and supported me because as a principal, I am usually supporting families," he said.
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