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Adam Reeb, 16, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in April but was determined to still go see the pope

Updated September 26, 2015 01:50 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Matt Reeb

When 16-year-old Adam Reeb first found out he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia last April, the first question he had for his doctor wasn’t about his treatment or his prognosis.

It was about the pope.

“He said, ‘I’m supposed to go to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis in September,’ ” his father, Matt, tells PEOPLE, and he wanted to know if he’d be well enough to go.

While his doctor couldn’t give him a definite answer, Adam was determined to make it happen. Two weeks ago he got the official all-clear.

So on Thursday, despite months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments and just four weeks after a bone marrow transplant, Adam traveled more than 1,000 miles from his home in Lee Summit, Missouri, to Philadelphia to make his dream come true.

He’s one of 350 students traveling from around the U.S., as well as British Columbia and Puerto Rico to Philadelphia to participate in a four-day event hosted by the city’s only Jesuit high school, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, which will includes tickets to Pope Francis’ visit to Independence Hall on Saturday and Sunday’s mass on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

“It’s been fun. We’ve heard some interesting speakers here,” Adam tells PEOPLE.

Of course the main event starts Saturday when he will see the pope at Independence Hall, where he’s hoping to get close enough to shake his hand.

He was feeling sick early Saturday but still determined to meet his idol.

Regardless of whether he actually gets to shake the pope’s hand, “it’s already been the experience of a lifetime,” he says.

His parents were determined to make this trip happen as well.

“Early in the process, my wife [Pam] said, ‘If you want to go I’ll drive you there,’ ” says Matt, 49, a cameraman for a TV station in Kansas City, Missouri. “It was important to him.”

In June, the day Adam found out his treatments had been successful and he was officially in remission, the Reebs also found out the oldest child, Eric, 19, was a bone marrow match for his brother. On July 25 Adam underwent the transplant.

One month later, he left the hospital with one goal in mind: to get to Philadelphia.

“I was concerned when one of the nurse practitioners said I wouldn t be back at school for 6 months,” he says. “One doctor was saying one thing and everyone else was saying another thing.”

Now, all that is in the past and he couldn’t be more excited.