Craig graduate, 21, leaves memories of smart, caring man
JANESVILLE—Since he was 5 years old, Alex Hembrook had wanted to become a high school teacher.
He never got the chance. Alex died Sunday at home after a battle with cancer. He was 21.
But his short time on Earth didn't stop him from spreading positivity, kindness and his signature smile everywhere he went. Those who knew him, even for a short while, said Alex taught them courage and strength.
"He inspired people," said Alex's father, Scott Hembrook. "Even though he didn't fulfill his dream of becoming a high school teacher, he was a teacher."
Tragedy struck when doctors discovered a football-sized tumor growing in Alex's chest in January. Alex underwent chemotherapy, and in June, doctors removed the tumor in a procedure similar to open-heart surgery, Scott said.
Unfortunately, the cancer had already spread.
"We could tell by the look in his (the surgeon's) face that something was wrong," Scott said.
By the end of September, after more rounds of chemotherapy and scans, doctors determined there was no way to beat the disease.
"It continued to grow, and unfortunately, at that point, they told us there's nothing they can do other than to call hospice and make him comfortable," Scott said.
Alex leaves behind memories of a smart, caring young man with an unbeatable smile.
"His legacy will live on. He was a really special boy," said Alex's mother, Barb Hembrook.
Alex was intelligent. A 2015 Craig High School graduate, he was studying biology and chemistry at UW-La Crosse with hopes of becoming a high school science teacher. He sometimes told his parents he didn't understand why, as a 20-year-old, he was tutoring seniors, Scott said.
"He just wanted to help people," Scott said. "He loved to do that."
Most students would be happy with an A- or even a B+ on assignments or exams. Not Alex. When he got even a 98 percent on an assignment, he'd still wonder where that 2 percent went, Scott said.
"He always wanted to know," he said.
Throughout his battle, Alex's family and friends never left his side. In July, Alex married his boyfriend, Nick Christopherson, at Palmer Park, Scott said.
"Nick wanted to let him know, 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm in this for the long haul. I love you. Let's solidify our bond,'" Scott said. "They'd been together about a year, and Nick has been just a huge help and kept Alex's attitude positive."
In August, family and friends held a fundraiser to help offset Alex's college tuition and medical bills.
Some of the money will be used for the Alex Hembrook Memorial Scholarship Fund, which the Hembrooks are starting to help local high school students who want to become teachers. That way, Alex's dream can live on through others, Scott said.
The news that Alex was going to die was simultaneously shocking and unsurprising. The family, Alex included, always held onto hope, but they knew the cancer was aggressive, Scott said.
"When people tell me they can't imagine (what it's like to lose a child), I say, 'Don't try.' It's awful," Scott said.
Despite their devastation, the Hembrooks take solace in the fact that Alex is at peace.
"As much pain as our family is in right now, he's no longer suffering, and he's not in any pain," Scott said.