Health & Wellness

Two boys form unique bond over cancer, leg surgery and bike ride fundraiser

Before Danielle and John Mock decided to move forward with special surgery to treat their 8-year-old son Carter's bone cancer, they told him the procedure to his leg would make him look different than other kids.

Doctors proposed rotationplasty for Carter, a procedure where a surgeon would remove his cancerous tumor along with a good portion of his left leg around the knee. Then, the lower part of his leg would be reattached, backwards, to his thigh.

What might have been an overwhelming decision for an 8-year-old was actually an easy "yes" for Carter — because he had a role model.

Couresty of Danielle Mock
Carter, who had his leg partially amputated due to cancer, plays with parts of a prosthesis.

Ten years ago, Jack Manning, 18, underwent the same procedure on his left leg after also being diagnosed with osteosarcoma. He made himself readily available to help Carter through the experience.

“When we first met at the hospital, it was more of me helping him see what I could do. I showed him I could jump and run and other stuff I could do with the leg,” Jack told TODAY about their first meeting late last year.

Courtesy of Pan Mass Challenge
Jack Manning, 18, and his buddy Carter Mock, 8, each have had rotationplasty surgery.

In January, Carter underwent the surgery. The ankle of his left leg serves as his new knee joint, giving him more mobility with a prosthetic than any other type of surgery that would have saved the entire leg.

Couresty of Danielle Mock
Carter during a physical therapy session.

Jack's surgery was so long ago he barely remembers what his body was like before it — and so much has happened since then. After working with a physical therapist following the surgery, Jack gradually resumed playing sports, including baseball, basketball and football in high school. He also became an avid snowboarder.

“He just really got back to being a kid and it was awesome,” his dad, Vincent Manning, recalled. “The surgery, as different as it is, gave him the best chance at excelling and doing anything and everything he wanted to. Ten years now post-surgery and post-chemo, the loss of the leg hasn’t slowed him down at all.”

Courtesy of Vincent Manning
Jack, at a baseball game, was active in school sports following his leg surgery.

That’s practically all Carter needed to know to get on board with the procedure.

“The day of his surgery, he just walked in and he wasn’t scared or nervous. I think a lot had to do with him meeting Jack and seeing what he’s able to do,” said Carter’s mom, Danielle Mock. “He looks up to Jack so much. He thinks he’s awesome.”

RELATED: Rare surgery gives young girl with bone cancer the chance to run again

His admiration for Jack only heightened after the teenager asked Carter to be his “pedal partner” in this weekend’s Pan Mass Challenge. Over the course of two days, Jack, his father and a handful of other riders will bike nearly 200 miles across Massachusetts to raise money for research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. And “Team Jack” will do it this year in Carter’s honor.

Couresty of Danielle Mock
Jack and Carter take a break during a recent bike ride.

Carter finished his chemotherapy treatment in June. He can now put about 75 percent of his weight on his left leg and still must use a crutch if he wants to run, but has no problem going swimming, rope climbing and bike riding. He expects to be back to his full, uninhibited self by fall.

“He has big plans to be skiing again and playing hockey this January,” his mother said.

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Mock said she can’t express the amount of gratitude she feels for the entire Manning family, but especially Jack, who will attend Boston College in the fall.

“Jack gives Carter something my husband and I can’t give him. We haven’t been through Jack’s experiences and to see that someone else who looks the same way he does and know that he’s OK, it gives you such reassurance,” she said.

Couresty of Danielle Mock
Carter is almost completely back to his active self following his January surgery.

Jack’s father says they now can give other families that kind of comfort.

RELATED: 9-year-old thrilled with 'Frozen' prosthesis: 'It feels like I have a real hand’

“They just want to know he’s going to be a regular kid and have an active childhood. That he’s going to get a girlfriend, and that it’s not going to be an issue. Basically, they want to know you’re going to get through this,” Manning said.

Courtesy of Danielle Mock
The two boys at Jack's recent game. Jack had a a special jersey made for Carter so he could be part of the team for the day.

Mock said Carter has had no problem with the fact that his leg now looks different than nearly everyone else's.

“He said, ‘I don’t care what it looks like. I just want to be able to do all the things that I used to be able to do,’” she said.

Couresty of Danielle Mock
Jack helped arrange for Carter to serve as third base coach and bat boy when he visited.

“Since he got the surgery, it’s been more about enjoying being friends instead of thinking about the leg as much. He’s doing great,” Jack said about his pint-sized friend.

“It’s nice to see him happy after the surgery. This is all just as meaningful for me as it is for him.”

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