One of Idaho’s top students survived life-threatening illness

James Eidson nearly died when he was just 2 years old. His doctor gave him a 38 percent chance of surviving stage four neuroblastoma — a childhood cancer.

His toddler years consisted of needles, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and monoclonal antibodies. Experimental treatments brought on uncomfortable side affects.

“We did everything to keep him alive,” said Mary Eidson, James’ mother. “It was painful and it really sucked.”

James, 17, has survived his cancer and is coping with the life-long side effects. He has become one of the top students at Riverstone International School, a school known for its rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“I don’t keep the cancer as part of my identity,” James said. “It was a tough battle, but as you can see, I was one of the lucky ones who made it through.”

Life after cancer

James was cancer free by the time he entered kindergarten but he wasn’t well. He was frail physically and emotionally he wasn’t ready to leave his parents. He missed as many days of school as he attended.

“He was physically exhausted,” Mary said.

At age 5, James’s parents began to discover he had hearing problems and was academically behind in reading. He would need a unique environment and extra help to thrive.

His parents decided to try Riverstone International School and its smaller class sizes, and Mary quit her nursing job to work one-on-one with James.

“He became my little project,” Mary said. “I felt like we homeschooled him.”

Mary worked every day after school with James to get him up to speed on reading. But by middle school, he learned he faced another challenge. He suffered from a type of cognitive dissonance which caused him to forget his lunch, lose handouts and notes and come to class without pencils and paper. He struggled to be organized.

“Instead of labeling me as a troublesome student who just didn’t care, every single one of my teachers recognized that I put a lot of effort into my assignments,” James said. “I work differently than other people and I figured out what works best for me.”

As a senior James owns a 3.9 grade-point average — only three of the school’s 225 graduates have ever achieved a 4.0 grade-point average. James also scored a perfect 12 on the writing portion of the ACT, a college-entrance exam, and a 35 on the reading and English portion.

What’s next for James

James set goals of being an academic powerhouse and sports superstar. Even though he’s just over 5 feet tall and weighs 90 pounds, he’s a member of the school’s basketball team.

“I always get handed the kids menu at restaurants,” James said.

James plans to apply to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Rice University in Houston and the University of Rochester in New York. He plans to study computer science with the dream of owning his own computer business.

“I saw huge growth and development in James through the years,” said Summer Henson-Conger, a French teacher at Riverstone.

Fun facts about James

  • Favorite drink? Good root beer (good as in not the mainstream soda brands) or iced green tea
  • Favorite sport to watch? Football
  • What are the first three songs on your current music playlist? True Feeling” by Galantis, “Take Her Down” by Ruben Young and “Feel Good” (feat. Daya) by Gryffin and Illenium
  • You just got a free plane ticket to go anywhere. Where are you going? Silicon Valley in California. It’s the central hub of so many powerful tech companies that have done incredible things. I would love to visit their headquarters to see what they’re working on and the logistics behind what they do.
  • Three things you can’t live without? Goofing off, innovation and friends
  • Favorite emoji? 🙃