After being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) late last week, Northeastern High School junior Marcus Josey began chemotherapy on Monday at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital to fight the cancer.
Josey is a quarterback for the Bobcats football team.
According to The Mayo Clinic website, ALL is the most common form of cancer in children. The word "acute" is a result of the disease spreading rapidly in the patient's blood and bone marrow, creating immature blood cells, rather than mature cells. The word "lymphocytic" refers to the white blood cells, known as lymphocytes, which the disease impacts.
If spotted early enough in the cancer's development and treated properly, there is a good chance of the patient being cured. Fortunately, for Josey, not only was it spotted early enough for treatment to begin immediately, but he didn't even need doctors to tell him that he had cancer.
"I kind of diagnosed myself," he said. "I was going through some cancer-like symptoms for two weeks prior to actually being diagnosed. I actually told a couple of my friends that I thought I had cancer. I just didn't know which type. So, I wasn't completely shocked, to be honest."
Some of the symptoms that started concerning Josey were uncontrollable nosebleeds, severe back pain, night sweats, joint pain and constantly feeling fatigued.
"It was definitely scary," he said. "I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn't really look at it and how it would affect my life, overall. I was more worried about getting my health in line and getting better."
Treatment: Now, after Josey completes this first week of chemo, he'll return to the Hershey Medical Center every Monday and, as long as his numbers continue to be in line, he'll receive chemo every Monday. The first round lasts four weeks, and then he'll undergo another round of tests, including a bone marrow biopsy and X-rays, and then he'll begin a second round of chemo.
"His overall treatment, we're not positive of it, it will be somewhere between five and six months for the chemo," Andrea Josey, Marcus' mother, said. "And then, after that, it will be maintenance. It's about a two-year process, the worst being the first four weeks."
Support: In the few days since his diagnosis, Josey received incredible amounts of support from his peers at Northeastern. His twitter feed, @josey_thewise, is filled with retweets of prayers and encouragement from his friends and teammates, with many using the #PRAYIN6ForMarcus. The numeral 6, standing in for the "G" in "PRAYING," is a tribute to his number on the football field. Students have sent him tweets, using the hashtag #MarcusStrong, while teammate Jonathan Maher posted a picture on his account, @Jmaher_04, of customized football cleats, that read "MARCUS" on the left cleat and "STRONG" on the right one, that the football team plans to wear for home games next season.
Students also began numerous fundraisers for him to help offset the medical bills that will continue to grow during and after his treatment. There are a couple different T-shirts that students are selling that say #MarcusStrong on the back, while there is also a kickstarter on the crowd-sourcing website GoFundMe.com under the name "Keep MarcusStrong" that's already raised over $4,000 for him and his family.
"The support is amazing," Josey said. "I honestly didn't think I had that many people out there caring for me and looking out for me. The people at my school are amazing. They're honestly helping me get through this a lot better than I think I would without that support."
Josey is the second athlete in York County to be diagnosed with cancer in the past two months, after Central York senior basketball player Pete Falci was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early March.
On the field: As a sophomore, Josey earned his first chance to start at quarterback for the Bobcats, completing 66 of 175 passes for 1,246 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But he was also a threat on the ground, rushing for 258 yards on 95 attempts and scoring twice.
Unfortunately, for himself and Northeastern, he never got a chance to show his development from his sophomore to junior year. He was injured in the first game of the season against York Catholic. He suffered a torn lisfranc ligament in his right foot in the first half of the season opener against the Irish. Despite finishing the game, he wouldn't play another down.
Now, he has a bigger challenge ahead of him.
"To challenge a kid like Marcus and the strength that he has and the mental toughness, to me, (cancer) picked the wrong person to challenge," Bobcats football coach Jon Scepanski said, "I know he'll beat it just because of the way he is. His passion for life and being successful and a leader, it picked the wrong person because he'll beat it."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org