As the Howell community mourns a high-spirited youngster who captured the hearts of residents and the members of the Howell Police Department, his family hopes to expand his legacy.
Jake Honig, 7, who was known as “The Tank,” died on Jan. 21 after battling cancer for five years. Jake is survived by his father, Mike, his mother, Janet, and his sister, Gianna.
Mike Honig said that when Jake was 2, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Doctors believed he had a form of cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma. Jake underwent successful brain surgery which removed the tumor and left no neurological defects. The surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation over nine months.
“He is called Jake ‘The Tank’ because of how quickly he bounced back from his diagnosis and surgery in 2012. He had seven hours of brain surgery, woke up and told his surgeon he wanted pancakes and juice. Most children don’t speak for at least 24 hours post-surgery. His surgeon was laughing hysterically,” Honig said.
Jake was in remission for four years until a scan showed a tumor had returned in the same location and same size as 2012. The youngster underwent six hours of brain surgery during which the tumor was removed, according to his father.
Honig said that after additional testing was conducted, doctors concluded the tumor was not Ewing’s sarcoma. He said it was determined to be a high grade, hard-to-categorize malignant brain tumor caused by a specific gene mutation.
Jake had been undergoing chemotherapy and found relief in using cannabis oils.
“In the world of medicine you have traditional medicine with big pharmaceutical companies working with research teams at (children’s hospitals), so you have that whole side, and then you have the medical marijuana side and those two sides do not get along,” Honig said.
He said pharmaceutical company executives and researchers are not collaborating with individuals who support the use of substances that are referred to as medical marijuana.
“They are fighting against each other. Instead, if they just put their forces together and actually focused on the enemy, which was always cancer, they probably would get further working together,” he said.
Honig said he believes Jake is the perfect example of how to bring the two sides together.
“(Jake) passed away on a Sunday. On Monday, we took him to (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) where he donated his brain and his spine to the (research team). They work with other research teams around the world, as well as with pharmaceutical companies, to try to find a cure,” Honig said.
By studying Jake’s brain and spine, researchers expect to learn more about the specific type of cancer the youngster battled.
“On Tuesday (Jan. 23), we know Jake was with us (in spirit) when we were in Gov. Phil Murphy’s office when he signed an executive order expanding access to medical marijuana for patients in New Jersey,” Honig said.
Murphy ordered a review of the state’s medical marijuana program in order to expand access for individuals who need the substance. Honig said the governor spoke with the family before Jake died and said he would take action.
“People say, ‘well, (marijuana) has no medicinal value.’ The only thing they have to back that up is that there are no well controlled studies because there cannot be because by federal law you cannot have a study with a Schedule I substance,” Honig said.
According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
“We know (marijuana) has medicinal value, we saw it firsthand,” Honig said. “We would take Jake off the (cannabis oil) and he would vomit, he would be in pain, he would have anxiety and agitation. We would put him right back on it and in 20 minutes he was smiling, eating, resting and sleeping.”
He said the cannabis oil could be rubbed on his son’s gums and absorbed. The substance can also be used with suppositories.
On Jan. 23, Howell Mayor Theresa Berger and the members of the Township Council honored Jake with a moment of silence at their meeting.
“Jake just showed in two days (since he passed away) that it is very important to advocate and to do what you can for modern research, and it is also very important to do what you can and advocate for medical marijuana because that plays a role as well,” Honig said.
The Honig family did all of those things before their son’s funeral.
“You have to do it while people are willing to listen because next week they may not be willing to listen, so it seems like a lot in the days leading up to his funeral, but the governor wanted to (sign the executive order) on Jan. 23 so we did it that day,” Honig said.
Services for Jake were held on Jan. 25-26.
During his battle with cancer, Jake came to be a special friend to the Howell Police Department. In 2017, the department named Jake an honorary police officer. At that time, in his honor, the police department sent a motorcade through his Monmouth Ridings neighborhood.
Howell officers presented Jake with a small electric police motorcycle, complete with Howell police decals and a personalized banner from the Howell PBA which carried the message “Jake ‘The Tank’ Honig – A True Hero.”
Detective Cpl. Mike Pavlick organized and coordinated the special event, including the purchase and delivery of the child’s motorcycle. Pavlick met Jake and his parents through a mutual friend in 2012. He said he was lucky to know Jake and called the Honig family an inspiration.
“Even through everything with Jake, they came together, stayed together and they are going to make sure Jake’s battle is going to affect other people and they are going to use this (tragedy) to make change,” Pavlick said.
Six months later, Howell police officers were escorting the Honig family to Jake’s service.
“We had about six officers come to our home. They escorted us to the funeral home where there were two fire trucks with their ladders fully extended and an American flag hanging from them.
“There were (dozens of) Howell officers standing in line saluting us as we got out of the car and all of the officers paid their respects prior to opening up to the public and they had two honor guards on each side of his casket for the entire Thursday and Friday (services),” Honig said.
He said the show of support by the police department was “completely above and beyond” what the family imagined it would be for an honorary police officer like Jake.
Jake’s parents plan to continue to share their son’s story to advocate for more medical research and for the use of medical marijuana.
“We have also been asked to share Jake’s story with researchers to remind them why they continuously do what they do. When they think they have all the answers, or they think they have all the types of brain tumors they can come up with or have a name for, (Jake) is a great example of another one they know nothing about and that is why we need researchers and scientists to continue to do what they do,” Honig said.
Jake’s dad said putting a face, especially the face of a child, on the story can be very motivating for researchers.