For nearly all his 19 years, Chad Juros has lived in the shadow of cancer and the light of magic. They have been the yin and yang of his existence.
As a young boy, he was diagnosed with leukemia and survived, getting through the chemotherapy, and the relapse, and the terrifying ill effects of brain radiation, through magic.
Not literally, of course - though the Egg Harbor Township child's recovery seemed miraculous to his parents at times, and certainly to him. Rather, the tricks his father taught him at his hospital bedside served as a distraction from the pain and nausea, then became a preoccupation. After his father died in 2000 at age 41, they provided a lifeline.
An accomplished magician, Chad, with his slight build and boyish face full of freckles and a disarming smile, has had a packed evening and weekend schedule of birthday parties and events for some time.
He makes enough to help pay expenses at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, where he's a sophomore. He's thinking of a teaching career, in part because teachers get holidays and summers off, allowing time for magic.
But that's Plan B. His real quest is to take his razzle-dazzle show big-time, maybe a gig at an Atlantic City casino, CHAD JUROS up in lights.
And he just might accomplish that.
In 2006, he appeared on magician Criss Angel's
on the A&E Network and performed with Lance Burton. He also has entertained at the Easter Egg Roll at the White House and made appearances at Ronald McDonald Camps, Eagles Fly for Leukemia, and other charities. His resume has a long list of accomplishments (American Cancer Society's Courage and Inspiration Award, Philadelphia 76ers Hometown Hero Award) that recognize his fight against cancer and his sleight of hand.
"He definitely, for a person his age, has a lot of skill, a lot of dexterity," said mentor Joe Holiday, a professional magician from Absecon.
But what sets Chad the Magician apart, he said, is his motivation and drive. "You don't see that very often," Holiday said. "He eats, sleeps, drinks and breathes magic."
Holiday attributes the passion to the cancer. "Magic was a reason to live," he said. "It took his mind off all the negative going on in his life. It gave him the drive."
Chad was diagnosed with leukemia at 31/2 when a cold wouldn't go away.
"I remember just collapsing," said Penny Juros, 50, his mother and manager.
Even then, Chad loved the card tricks his father, Donald, performed for the family. Donald Juros was a dentist with nimble fingers. His childhood nickname was "The Great Donaldo," the kid on the block who did shows.
"Nothing like Chad," said Penny Juros, who also works as a teacher's aide.
Even as a toddler, she said, her son had the showman in him, the pizzazz to entertain. "This was the one thing that came to him very naturally."
Chad underwent three years of chemotherapy at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Most kids are cured of leukemia with that first three years of treatment," said Jill Ginsberg, a pediatric oncologist at the hospital who has known Chad since he was a young child and has been his physician for the last six years.
But Chad relapsed a year later. He was 7 years old. He remembers his father hugging him so hard he thought he would squeeze the cancer out.
"Am I going to die?" he asked the doctor.
"He said, 'You have a better chance of dying than living. . . . I'm here to help you live, not help you die,' " Penny Juros recalled.
Chad began an aggressive round of chemotherapy and, as a prophylactic measure, brain radiation.
"He was in the hospital more than he wasn't in the hospital," Ginsberg said. "He was critically ill. The prognosis was guarded at best. We didn't know if his leukemia would respond."
During the months of treatment, his mother stayed by his side. Midweek, his father would relieve her, while she went home to Faith, Chad's older sister.
Donald Juros would try to ease his son's suffering with some bedside entertainment.
Pick a card, any card.
Chad couldn't wait for the next visit, the next trick. Of course, he wanted to know how his dad did that.
"Everything was about magic," Penny Juros said. Staff started calling him "magic boy," and when he was feeling up to it, he performed in the playroom.
was his magic word, and still is. "I felt that was my medicine," he said.
Penny Juros remembers many devastating moments, including the two times Chad nearly died. The ordeal is chronicled on Chad's Web site,
"He's been through tremendous adversity," said Ginsberg, the oncologist. "He has a heart of gold. People are drawn to him because he's a kindhearted soul. A lot of it has to do with his parents, how much they cared for him and how much they valued him."
His story of survival has certainly served as inspiration to many.
But his victory against cancer is also integral to the making of this young magician. It not only raises money for the nonprofit Spread the Magic Foundation, which he began in 2005 to take magic shows to pediatric cancer patients, but it also helps to advance his career.
"The cancer opened some doors," Penny Juros, who heads the foundation, said without apology. "He has to kick open those doors."
In 1997, his cancer in remission, Chad was sent home. Now magic ruled this class clown's world. While other boys practiced batting, Chad honed moving his hands faster than an audience could ever hope to see.
He could make a coin appear out of nowhere.
He had a normal life back.
And then in 1998, Donald Juros, who had been complaining about weakness in his hands, was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was 39.
"He taught me magic when I was sick," Chad said. "When he was sick, I went in and did those tricks for him."
After his father's death, magic became even more critical to Chad, his connection to his father.
That bond was threatened four years ago, when Chad started having intense, alarming headaches, Ginsberg said. Blood vessels in his brain were bleeding, possibly a result of the radiation years ago, she said.
It wasn't cancer, but it was serious enough to require surgery. Chad and his family worried about the risk of paralysis. Before the operation, the magician performed in the playroom. "I thought it was for the last time," he said.
Afterward, when he was alert, the surgeon asked him to wiggle his hands and toes.
Chad shook his head no.
Instead, he said, he reached for a deck of cards, cut it, and shuffled, feeding each card between the others. Perfectly.
On this October night, the Penn Wynne Fire House is ablaze with witches and monsters, a few fairy princesses, and one human Rubik's Cube.
More than 100 children have come for the annual Halloween costume contest. The Magic of Chad Juros is entertainment.
"I think he's great," said Domenick Crimi, president of the Penn Wynne Fireman's Club, who booked Chad last year, too. The cost, a few hundred dollars, is well worth it, he said. "Kids really like him."
Chad has a bright blue jacket over black shirt and pants. A sparkly pin on his lapel spells out MAGIC. His fingers are long, slender, delicate, and constantly on the move.
"He always has something in his hands," said his mother, sitting at a table where she's selling Chad's $20 DVDs of simple magic tricks, and offering $2 wristbands to benefit Spread the Magic. "He's always working on his magic."
As he waits for the contest to end, he balances a wand on his nose.
With the smell of popcorn in the air, Chad juggles balls to "Wows!" and makes another wand appear out of a kerchief. A CD player pumping out "I got the power" disappears. Just like that.
"This is awesome!" one boy exclaimed.
"I know," said his friend.
And red, white and blue scarves turn into an American flag.
The boys don't know it, but this show, like every show, is more magical than it looks.
"I'm keeping my dad alive," Chad said, "by keeping the magic alive."