BRAVE LIKE A SUPERHERO: Despite leukemia and diabetes, Jonathon is never defeated

By Carolyn DiPaolo
Special to The Palm Beach Post

On a windy, overcast autumn afternoon, 4-year-old Jonathon Howard was very busy in his grandparents’ front yard.

Jonathon has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He also is battling diabetes, a rare, but serious side effect of his cancer treatment.

Jonathon wore a tiny Black Panther helmet, a tiny Black Panther cloth mask and mini elbow and knee pads to protect him as he skated down the driveway. His mother, Cheridah James, said it was the first time in months she allowed her active boy to play outside.

If Jonathon works up a sweat in South Florida’s subtropical heat, his blood sugar drops to a dangerous level. So mother and son stay indoors.

Now, with the added threat of the Covid-19 pandemic to Jonathon’s fragile immune system, they limit their outings to medical appointments and socially distant Sunday church services.

But it was cool on this day, and Jonathon was focused on various ways to propel himself across the concrete. As he trudged back to his starting point, James could tell that Jonathon was trying to ignore the pain in his legs.

“This disease is stripping him of his childhood,” she said.

Jonathon is both unique and representative of the patients served by the West Palm Beach-based Pediatric Oncology Support Team, according to Program Director Terrie Johnson. POST leaders report that Jonathon, who was 2 when diagnosed with cancer, is at increased risk of learning challenges. Children with Jonathon’s type of leukemia must be given chemotherapy directly into the spinal fluid, which then bathes the brain in potent medicine to kill malignant cells.

His mother said the cancer treatments fire up the pain of neuropathy in Jonathon’s legs. Afterward, she carries him to the bathtub where the warm water brings some relief.

Jonathon’s cancer is in remission, James said. But the complication of diabetes means his mother constantly monitors his blood sugar. One day, it will be Jonathon’s burden. The lifelong chronic illness could affect Jonathon’s sight, his heart and ultimately his life span.

After being furloughed because of the pandemic, James is back on the job. She arranges her work with special needs children around Jonathon’s appointments. She is also building a hair-styling business.

Jonathon helps get the word out. “He is always telling people, ‘You know, my mom does hair,’” James said.

James has instilled a loving spirit in her son. 

“Jonathon is an extraordinarily kind, generous and magnetic little boy. 

Not just for his age but for any age,” Johnson said.

At Christmastime, at just 3 years old, Jonathon gave away his presents to other children at the hospital.

James, 29, is driven, organized and fearless in Jonathon’s presence. But often she has to step away to let the tears flow in a place where her boy cannot see her.

Two years ago, James was preparing to move out of her parents’ home when she noticed that 2-year-old Jonathon was not quite himself.

Then her toddler started fainting.  

Soon, she was driving nearly 100 miles round-trip to ferry Jonathon to oncology appointments and treatments. 

“Sometimes, I have to call a medic to come to get us because something is not right,” James said. In those emergencies, doctors typically transfer Jonathon from their Port St. Lucie home to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. That means days of worry at his bedside and living on takeout food.

James purchased a car so she could have reliable transportation. Sometimes, she and Jonathon pass the time during their long drives by singing along to gospel songs. He has two favorites. 

‘One is This Little Light of Mine.’ The other is ‘Never Be Defeated.’


Four-year-old Jonathon Howard has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and treatment-related diabetes. He faces potential learning challenges and a future with a chronic disease that could shorten his life. Cheridah James needs help to take care of her ill son. She needs money for car payments, car insurance, gasoline for trips to West Palm Beach and her share of household bills. She would like to make over Jonathon’s room with an Avengers theme emphasizing Black Panther. She has not had the heart to tell Jonathon that his hero, Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther on the big screen, recently died of cancer.

Nominating agency: Pediatric Oncology Support Team.

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