EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) — A community is grieving the loss of a student that made quite the impact.
Keaton Gabel, a high school student at Effingham High School, died from cancer Saturday.
The school community is rallying behind the Gabel family. They wore yellow Wednesday to honor him. Gold is the color representing childhood cancer, but yellow is what the district chose. Students could donate a dollar to wear a hat on Friday, with all proceeds going to the family. Many sports groups will wear yellow for games as well.
Those that knew him well said he never made cancer his identity, including Aaron Bartels, Gabel’s friend since 4th grade.
“What I have learned from Keaton, don’t let [life] beat you down,” Bartels said. “Treat every moment like you are perfectly healthy. Enjoy it.”
Bartels said Gabel was obsessed with board games, and they often played in groups. His “Make a Wish” gift was a shed filled with board games.
“He wanted everyone to enjoy his wish,” Haley Miller, Gabel’s cousin, said.
Miller called Gabel one of the smartest people she knows and knew him for his love of board games and his competitive spirit.
“He loves to play games like board games. He was very competitive and would flip over the Candyland board as a kid when my sister would beat him,” Miller said.
When school was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of friends including Bartels would often come over to play board games when they could. They communicated
Often he said, they spoke virtually. “We did a lot of calls, and sometimes with COVID, we could go see him still when he was home. A couple of years back, he did go through a bone marrow transplant; through COVID, we had to do calls with that with FaceTime.”
Kurt Roberts, Effingham High School’s principal, said Gabel refused to give up.
“He stared cancer in the face every day for almost four years and refused to give up,” Roberts said. “He fought like crazy through surgeries, radiation treatments, biopsies, lumbar shots, bone marrow transplants, two types of cancers, gallons of chemotherapy, and countless pills.”
At home, Gabel acted like he didn’t have cancer.
“He didn’t want people to acknowledge that disease. He wanted people to know him.” Miller said. “I think that is how he coped with it.”
“[He was] just an incredibly mature young man for his age, owing a lot to his circumstances which robbed him of his childhood but took that in stride. That showed how he dealt with people and what he had to deal with.”
Miller said she’s at peace with his death because “he is no longer suffering.”
Bartels said grieving Gabel is rough.
“Other people have been taking it rough, rougher than I have at least–they never got to say goodbye,” Bartels said.
The family has a GoFundMe set up to help with any expenses. The school is asking for thoughts and prayers at this time.