DALY CITY, Calif. -
Kevin Brady said his knees about buckled Wednesday when he received a $1,500 check from Half Moon Bay's (Half Moon Bay, Calif.)
Brady is the baseball coach at Westmoor (Daly City, Calif.)
"Staggering," he said. "I about cried."
He did the following day when a student handed him a couple crumpled up dollar bills – her lunch money. This after Westmoor's track club raised more than $120 and an art class sent over an elaborate project with tissue and pictures and $26.75 stuffed in between – mostly coins.
"If this isn't affirmation of the human spirit, I don't know what is," Brady said.
All that spirit is directed toward Westmoor junior pitcher and shortstop David Lait
, a native of the Marshall Islands who on April 13 was diagnosed with a high grade of Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer in the left tibia.
He was admitted to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara five days later and a CT scan showed the cancer had not spread.
The outgoing 5-foot-7, 160-pound 16-year-old started his first chemotherapy treatment last week and will continue regular dosages for the next three months before surgery is scheduled to replace the knee and tibia.
Chemo has left Lait largely ill and fatigued all week, but he gathered enough energy Wednesday to join the Rams for team pictures on campus. There, Lait laughed, limped and sang songs with his best friends and baseball family in the outfield.
During a challenging spring and 4-22 season, this was a very good day for Lait and his teammates. Wins, losses and hospital visits were the furthest things from their minds.
"It was perfect," Lait said. "I just felt like my old self again."
Said senior infielder Bryan Fletes, one of Lait's closest friends: "We weren't going to have a team picture without David in it. Just because he hasn't been out here, he's with us. He's always with us."Long journey to Saintville
He's evidently with the entire peninsula as well. More than $9,000 has been raised to help defray medical costs and to fly Lait's birth parents from the Marshall Islands to be with their son.
Six years ago, David's parents sent him along with five family members to the United States to live a better life that eventually led them to the 1,800-square foot home of Robert and Sharon Treanor, of Pacifica.
The Treanors' daughter Mary taught in the Marshall Islands, a small democratic republic on the Pacific between Hawaii and New Zealand, and was housed by the Lait family.
The Treanors' repaid the gesture – with interest – taking in not only David, but his cousin Alino Lewa, now 17, uncle Kijone Jinna, 34, aunt Alisen Lait, 28, and their two boys Mighty, 10, and Menjen, 7.
"It was hard at first coming here, being away from my family, not really knowing the language," David said. "It was so cold here. Alino and I didn't know anyone. But it got a lot better. We learned how to play basketball and baseball. Our new family was so good to us."
The Treanors are David's legal guardian and Sharon has called new family dynamic and huge new responsibility "a huge gift." When a friend recently called her a saint, she thought she said "insane."
"I thought it was kind of funny because there is a fine line between the two," she said.
But there's no confusing the Treanors strength or compassion. They've showed it for five years before David went in for his biopsy and even more so since.
When the cancer was revealed, Brady considered cancelling a team barbecue. Sharon wouldn't allow it.
"She said ‘are you kidding? You have to have it,' " Brady recalled. "She told me I didn't have a choice, that the other kids needed me and each other more than ever. She was right.
"I'm telling you, David couldn't have landed at a better spot. That's a family you want on your side through thick or thin."
It got very thick very fast for David, the Westmoor team and the Treanor household about a month ago. Emotions run rampant
When David complained of his knee aching last fall, doctors told him to ice and rest it for 30 days. The pain subsided, then increased at the start of the baseball season. The team's pitcher and No. 3 hitter in the lineup hobbled around for four games – DHing and pitching – but then he could barely even walk. Something didn't add up.
"This kind of cancer gets miss-diagnosed all the time," Sharon said. "He's an active 16-year-old with bumps and bruises. You think he injured his knee."
But X-rays revealed a mass. A biopsy revealed the cancer. The CT scan showed it was contained. Emotions ran rampant.
"I was scared big time," David said. "You wonder about your life you know. Then they told me I could keep my leg. That made me happy."
So has the outpouring of support from the community. South San Francisco's baseball team dedicated its season to him. Players from Hillsdale-San Mateo offered honorary caps. Teachers quickly dug in to donate $800.
"I'm just so thankful for all these people who I don't even know who are doing all these nice things," David said. "It makes me feel special."
He is special, Brady said. Resilient. Tough. Happy. Funny. Carefree. Courageous. Inspirational.
"He's all those things," Brady said. "He's taught me so much. I mean dealing with cancer and mortality at that age? If I was him, I'm not sure if wouldn't just curl up into a little ball. But he just keeps coming back and smiling and fighting and being himself."
Maybe that has to do with his Island upbringing. Going with the flow. Living life each day, each breath.
It's been vital to have a glass-is-half-full mentor like Brady, who wasn't raised on an island, but close – San Diego. Brady teaches every detail of the game - most importantly a "hard-90" approach (sprint to first and touch the ball each time) - and have fun at the same time. He truly believes all lessons of baseball apply to life.
"He's been there every step for me," David said of Brady. "He never misses anything for me. He's started all this fund-raising. He's been great."
Seems like stars, if not players in his life, are all aligned for David. That seems like a strange thing to say about a 16-year-old just diagnosed with cancer.
But had he not made the long journey to a new land, had he stayed in his albeit beautiful and warm and relaxing native land, he likely would have never been diagnosed and the cancer most certainly have spread.
Medicine, money and technology is remote in the Marshall Islands.
"Maybe it's not so fortuitous he came here at all," Brady said.
David doesn't even consider such a fate. He just considers his future, his life, his hard-90 road ahead.
He plans to touch them all.
"I'm not going to let this defeat me," he said. "This is just a small little fight that have to go through. I'm going to be fine."A cancer fund for David have been set up HERE and at Wells Fargo Bank in Pacifica (1380 Linda Mar Shopping Center, 94404). The account No. is 2144192842. Donations can also be mailed to Westmoor High School, c/o Kevin Brady, 131 Westmoor Ave., Daly City, 94015.
E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org.