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Friday, July 25, 2014

When the bigger battle is fought off the court

Sunday, January 27, 2013

(Photo)
Blytheville's Shaquille Smith, is a cancer survivor. His Hodgkin Lymphoma has been in remission for six years.
On the surface, Blytheville Chickasaw senior guard, Shaquille Smith, looks like your average teenager. Youthful, athletic and just trying to help his team pick up some wins.

However, when Smith was in the sixth grade, a trip to the doctor's office changed his life forever.

"I'll never forget the look on my mom's face," said Smith who is now in his senior year at Blytheville High School. "One look at her and I knew something was serious."

Smith went to the doctor to have a lump on the back of his neck checked out.

"I just thought it was from playing hard," he said.

The results of the X-rays and further tests showed that Smith developed Hodgkin Lymphoma -- a form of cancer of the lymphatic system which affects the immune system and a mass had developed in his chest.

"When they saw mass in my chest, they took me to St. Jude's right away," he said. "I had more X-rays, CAT scans and then I even had to have a bone marrow transplant."

From there, Smith spent much of the next few months at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. After weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, the cancer retreated into remission. The trips to St. Jude didn't end there. While the cancer has been in remission for six years now, Smith still returns to the hospital three to four times a month for checkups, X-rays and CAT scans just to make sure nothing has resurfaced all the while still perusing his educational and athletic dreams.

"I thought, with all of the conflicts, about may not playing anymore," said Smith, who is also an A-and-B student. "But I know I have talent that can take me somewhere. Why would I want to waste my talent and not do anything with it?

Smith realizes the challenges in trying to get an athletic scholarship, so he does have plans in case basketball isn't his ticket to college. He's already been accepted to the University of Memphis.

"That's my dream," he said. "I've always wanted to go to Memphis."

He said he would like to become a physical therapist one day, in some part because of his familiarity with the medical field with his cancer, and because his mother works for the health department.

"I was always asking questions," he said. "I wanted to know what was going on with my body. I was having so many tests done on me. So, now, I want to be the one to hit the knees and run the tests."

In addition to checkups, one of the effects of Hodgkin Lymphoma is a weaker immune system.

"I don't just get a cold," said Smith. "There is always the threat that it could lead to pneumonia or something worse. When I get sick, I can't do anything, and my mom won't let anybody be around me."

Just looking at Smith, one would never know the struggles he's had growing up and he attributes that to the doctors and nurses he's encountered along the way at St. Jude.

"They treated me like I was like everybody else," he said. "They didn't treat me like a cripple. I never thought of myself as different, sometimes I'd forget I was even sick."

Smith has gained the respect of his teammates and coaches for how he's dealt with his situation.

"No kid ever dreams about having cancer and going to St. Jude for treatment," said Chickasaw head coach, Jeff Flanigan. "What he's been able to overcome in his short life is nothing short of incredible."

Smith often looks back on his fight with cancer when things get tough on the basketball court. Earlier this season, he cracked a rib during a game against Osceola.

"It hurt, but I thought to myself, 'This is nothing like the pain I went through with cancer.' So, I kept playing," he said.

Cracked ribs, colds and losses on the basketball court are nothing compared to what Smith says he experienced, and it won't allow him to miss a beat.

"I always say to myself, 'If God can bring me out of cancer, He can get me through this.'"

afitzpatrick@couriermews.net

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