SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – May is National Cancer Research Month, and one Utah family is sharing their son’s journey with cancer and the amazing connection with the doctor who treated him. 

18-month-old Owen Jennings is not just your typical toddler, he’s a survivor. 

Owen was born 5 weeks early with a severe brain tumor — a teratoma. Since he was so young, doctors had different opinions on courses of treatment. 

Eventually, Jennings found Dr. Samuel Cheshier, a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute. Dr. Cheshier said he “felt strongly that Owen would do really well.” So, at 3 months old, Owen had extensive brain surgery.

“That day is probably the worst day of my life,” Owen’s father, Troy Jennings said. “I almost collapsed in the pre-op wing.” 

Dr. Cheshier described it as brain surgery with “a capital B”, which miraculously was a success. 

In January 2023, doctors declared Owen cancer-free at his one-year post-op appointment. To celebrate, the Jennings took a picture with Dr. Cheshier. The next day, Troy shared the picture with his work colleagues, when they made a connection. 

“When I saw the photo of Troy and Dr Cheshier I was completely blown away,” Qualtrics Head of Social Impact Lori Morency Kun said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s our guy.’”

For the past 7 years, Troy and his work company, Qualtrics, have been funding 5 For The Fight, a program that raises money for research and funds research fellows. One of the fellows they’re funding is Dr. Cheshier. His specific research? Brain tumors and cancer in babies. Troy says he had no idea.

“It was one of those moments you’ll never forget,” Kun said. 

“It’s just incredible,” Troy said. “Cancer research sometimes seems really obtuse. You think, ‘Oh maybe 10 years from now maybe someone somewhere will be able to benefit from it, but it’s all just a matter of time.” 

Now, the Jennings family and Dr. Cheshier say it’s more than a doctor-patient relationship, they’re friends. 

“I really feel like I’m not helping just random members of my community,” Dr. Cheshier said. “These people are like my extended family.”