Foard's Mathis Is 'Pumped Up To Play'

At a house in Deerfield, there is a calendar with a date in June 2011 marked on it. That date could be the last time Mitchell Mathis will go to the doctor to see if he is still cancer free.

Still healthy.

Still able to do things he wants to do when he wants to do them.

“It is definitely marked on our calendar,” said Diane Mathis, Mitchell’s mother. “It is definitely a big date, but we feel in our hearts, he is already cured.”

Mitchell has been in remission nine years, and the doctor’s appointment in June marks year No. 10. If nothing is found, doctors can call his body cancer free.

“Looking back, I’m so thankful everything turned out the way it did,” Mitchell said. “Chances of the cancer coming back now are one in a million.”

The junior at Fred T. Foard was diagnosed in June 2001, at 6 years old, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is the most common form of leukemia found in children. Abnormal white blood cells form in the brain or spinal cord. In Mitchell’s case, it was a golf-ball sized tumor behind his left eye.
The institute’s website said red blood cells — frequently in children with ALL — have trouble carrying oxygen, and the disease can lead to swollen lymph nodes, tiny red spots under the skin and frequent infections among other side effects.

An infection — pneumonia — during treatment almost cost Mitchell his life, and he said doctors gave him a slim chance of survival.
The thought of playing sports again one day helped him get through everything.

“I’m so thankful I get to play now,” Mitchell said. “I’m glad I just get to be out here and get to be treated the same compared to how I used to be while sick and all that.”

Mitchell played one year of tee ball when he was 5 and was in the middle of baseball season when he got the bad news. But he looked forward to the day he could get back out there as one of the boys.

“I was ready to get back and was just pumped up to play,” he said.

Diane, however, was reluctant about the kid fresh off of chemo getting back into sports after enduring the disease.

“He was on a lot of medicine that made his bones weaker, and I was nervous for him to go back out there,” she said.

Mitchell got back into baseball before his family moved to Hickory, and he picked up football at a youth recreation camp while in middle school. He played two seasons at Jacob Fork Middle School and stayed with it. He is now a wide receiver and defensive back in his first season on the Tigers’ varsity squad. Mitchell also plays second base on the Tigers’ baseball team and is on a travel team. The travel team played in a tournament during the weekend to qualify for another tournament in Orlando, Fla.

“It says something to anybody and everybody about courage and strength,” Foard football coach Ryan Gettys said. “It’s a motivational thing every day for everybody.”

Aside from their son fighting for his life while living in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Mathises also had to fight doctors. Diane Mathis said physicians in Florida declined to give Mitchell the radiation treatment he needed on his brain because it could cause their son to have a learning disability. Bo, Mitchell’s father, and Diane found doctors at Duke University Hospital to agree to the treatment. They found an apartment in North Carolina to live in during the six weeks of radiation treatment and moved the family — Mitchell’s two younger sisters Kaliegh, 12, and Chayse, 2 — in summer 2005 to Hickory.

Mitchell made it through radiation treatment at Duke with no lingering side effects, and he has a 4.1 GPA while taking honors classes at Foard.

“I’m just so grateful God got me through this and my family got me through this, and I’m just so thankful for all the support I had through the process,” he said.