Jack Thompson Phillips, 23, of Malvern, a recent college graduate who aspired to a career in environmental science, died Monday, June 4, of complications from brain cancer at his home.
Mr. Phillips was the son of Nell Rose and Michael Phillips, longtime residents of Malvern. He graduated from West Chester East High School in 2013. While there, he was a member of the National Honor Society and a pole vaulter and distance runner on the track and field team.
He earned a bachelor's degree in 2017 from Penn State University. His major was geoscience, the study of the earth and factors that affect the environment.
"He never got a chance to get started," his grandfather, Gene Foreman, former managing editor of the Inquirer, said of his grandson's aspirations. "He wanted to have a favorable impact on the environment. He wanted to become an environmental protector."
As part of Mr. Phillips' course work, he took a field trip during the summer of 2017 to the Rockies, Foreman said, and was thrilled to be in the mountains.
After receiving his degree in August 2017, Mr. Phillips and his girlfriend, Liz Snell, went on a dream trip to Thailand, a treat before plunging into adulthood. Just 10 hours into the trip, though, Mr. Phillips experienced an excruciating headache and lost the feeling on his left side.
The illness came "out of nowhere," his mother wrote online.
Mr. Phillips was rushed to a hospital in Bangkok, where doctors diagnosed him with advanced brain cancer and performed emergency surgery to remove a large tumor that had hemorrhaged. Their quick action saved Mr. Phillips' life, his mother wrote.
His parents flew to Thailand to be by their son's side. A month later, once his condition stabilized, Mr. Phillips, his parents, and Snell flew back to the United States.
For a while, early this year, Mr. Phillips appeared to be recovering and life was returning to normal, his mother wrote.
"We have been enjoying Jack gaining strength and beginning to get his life back," his mother wrote on CaringBridge.org. "Things have been humming along nicely. He went on a couple of dates with Liz and started his neighborhood walks."
Mr. Phillips was able to show his family the cooking skills he had learned while working as a shift manager at the Qdoba Mexican Eats restaurant in State College during his junior and senior years at Penn State. "He was proud of that," his grandfather said.
But the multiple surgeries and treatments with radiation and chemotherapy at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital that were needed to address the glioblastoma took their toll. Fluid collected on his brain and caused pressure, his grandfather said.
At Eastertime, Mr. Phillips began experiencing sinus pain and headaches, and his condition deteriorated. Mr. Phillips fought bravely and never lost hope of recovery, his mother and grandfather said.
Over Memorial Day weekend, though, doctors advised that the best course of action was hospice care, so his parents took him home to be with his family and two dogs.
An uplifting moment had come just before on May 25, when the Phillips' neighbors and students and teachers from the East Goshen Elementary School, which he had attended, turned out for a walk – "Jack's Journey" – to raise funds for cancer research.
"Jack is feeling very special and loved," his mother wrote online.
Mr. Phillips was remembered as a person who was "a friend for life," Foreman said. He kept in touch with fellow students from grade school, some of whom were present when he died.
Kristie Wining, proprietor of Qdoba Mexican Eats in State College, where Mr. Phillips was a shift manager in the evenings, said that she has seen many students work at the restaurant in the last 14 years, but that he was special.
"He was always happy. Being around him just made your day better. Not one time did he think this was going to beat him. He was an all-around great kind of kid. … In the time he had, he touched many people's lives," Wining said.
In addition to his parents and grandfather, Mr. Phillips is survived by siblings Christopher, Nicholas, Noah, and Olivia; and a grandmother, Harriet Phillips.