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Like a lot of boys, 16-year-old Chase is all about baseball. He loves the St. Louis Cardinals and the Clemson Tigers. Growing up, Chase listened to his grandfather tell stories about playing in the South Carolina mill leagues. Baseball is in Chase’s blood. And when Chase became a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, baseball helped motivate him to battle cancer not once, but twice, and return to the playing field.
In 2007, Chase was exactly where he wanted to be—on the baseball field. At 14, he had already been playing for years with a United States Specialty Sports Association traveling team called the Chapin As. Being a part of a traveling team requires dedication. The baseball season stretches all year long, with just two weeks off a year. But the dedication paid off. In 2006 and 2007, Chase’s team made it to the USSSA World Series, placing 13th out of 70 teams in 2006.
But as the 2007 season progressed, Chase’s game started to falter. He vomited before games and had trouble with his vision, but at the time, it was easy to blame both on other factors. Chase’s parents, Craig and Melissa, attributed the vomiting to nerves. “Chase was hard on himself when it came to playing,” Melissa explained. The vision problems were chalked up to Chase needing a stronger prescription for his glasses.
But the difficulties continued. That summer, Chase, whose batting average had been .700, went from hitting the ball three out of four times to hitting it only twice the entire summer. “I thought I was having a slump,” Chase recalled, “I thought it was something I could pull out of.” In October 2007, after Chase spent several days with a severe headache and vomiting, Melissa took him to the emergency room.
A CT scan was ordered, and the results were devastating. Chase had a brain tumor and pressure was building on his brain due to hydrocephalous. “Chase had always been so healthy,” Melissa said. “I couldn’t breathe when the doctor told us.”
Chase underwent surgery to insert a shunt to relieve the pressure on his brain. His teammates and coaches came by to visit. “One by one, the boys on the team and the coaches went in to see Chase,” Melissa said. “They brought him baseballs and little gifts he could hold.”
While Chase recovered from surgery, Melissa and Craig began the arduous task of finding the best place possible for Chase’s treatment and care. Their search led them to St. Jude. “We looked at a lot of other places,” Melissa said. “But when we talked to the staff at St. Jude, everyone talked to us on our level.” When a local doctor told Melissa that if Chase were his child, he’d take him to St. Jude, Chase’s parents asked for a referral.
At St. Jude, Chase underwent six weeks of radiation and responded well to treatment. Chase’s team kept him in their thoughts while he was in Memphis. “They were playing ball while I was in the hospital, but we kept in touch,” Chase said. “These are the same guys I’ve played with my whole life. My coaches were so supportive—they’re my role models, my life. They were happy to see me when I came home.”
After eight weeks in Memphis, Chase returned home to South Carolina and worked to regain his strength. By summer 2008, he was back on the baseball field. With his freshman year of high school fast approaching, Chase tried out for his high school’s junior varsity team and made it. He played in a few games, but as the season wore on, Chase started to wear down. He wasn’t bouncing back from radiation as quickly as his family had expected.
During a checkup at St. Jude in October 2008, the family learned good news: Chase’s tumor was shrinking. But shortly after that visit, Chase began to develop headaches and didn’t feel well. For weeks, his symptoms lingered. In January 2009, concerned that these symptoms were indicative of problems with Chase’s shunt, Melissa took him to the emergency room.
Doctors ordered a CT scan and an MRI. When the doctors came in with the results, it was not what anyone expected. “I remember seeing the MRI,” Melissa said. “And something did not look right. It didn’t look like the other tumor looked. I pointed at it. I said ‘What is that?’ And that’s when we learned that Chase had another type of cancer.” Within the week, Chase and his family were back at St. Jude.
At St. Jude, doctors identified the new tumor as a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. To have it appear on the skull is extremely rare. Chase underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Once he recovered, he started treatment, which included 18 rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation. He returns to St. Jude every three months for scans.
While Chase isn’t able to play baseball right now, he’s still very much a part of the school team. He keeps the team books and helps coach. And he’s already planning his return to the field for his upcoming senior year. “Playing ball has always been a motivation for me,” Chase said. “I want to get back on the field and play.”
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