Video: Touchdowns Against Cancer 2017 campaignSee how the TAC program and football can unite communities, build brotherhoods and bring hope. The second-year Touchdowns for Cancer campaign to benefit cancer research
for St. Jude Hospital is universally applauded. Everyone desperately
wants to knock out pediatric cancer. But some fights are quite personal.
So are their stories. Here is one of many to be shared.
couldn't wait for Labor Day.
Not for the day off school. Not because of football practice. But because the 17-year-old started what he hopes is his final chemotherapy session before being declared cancer free.
"Every time I get chemo, they draw blood to see how the tumor markers are, and they're lowering substantially," Perez said. "We're very hopeful that this is going work."
The senior at Rio Rico (Ariz.)
has already undergone four chemotherapy treatments. Each round lasts five days, and hits Perez hard. Once the last session wraps up on Sept. 8, Perez could be cleared as soon as the following week to get back to everyday activities. That includes playing football.
Perez has been a starter for the Hawks since freshman year. The senior running back, who ran for 1,235 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior, is antsy to take a hand-off and collide with a defender.
"It's bad. It's really bad," a laughing Perez said about his desire to return to the gridiron. "When I'm at the games, I get so anxious. I'm all nervous, I'm sweating."
"He's (eager) to hit," said Rio Rico running backs coach Danny Navarro. "He goes out there sometimes on scout team as a QB or something, and we put a yellow jersey on him. He's (eager) to go out there and have some fun."
Four months ago, Perez didn't know if he'd get the chance to play football this fall. Perez noticed discomfort and swelling in his groin area. He told his mom he needed to see a doctor. On May 31, during the first week of spring practice, a tumor was discovered. Testicular cancer was the diagnosis.
"The cancer just kind of came out of nowhere," Navarro said. "Everything was perfect. This was supposed to be his year." Learn more about how you can get involved in Touchdowns Against Cancer
Surgery removed the tumor and Perez started chemotherapy. After more CT scans, two additional tumors were found, one at the bottom of the lung and the other in his stomach.
"I was just shell-shocked," Perez said of the diagnosis. "It's pretty bad. My life turned around in a span of a month and a half. It went sideways. You don't know how to react to it at first. But thank God that my family was there because they're the ones that have been guiding me throughout this whole mess."
Despite the battle of his young life, Perez takes it in stride.
"Honestly, he hasn't changed a bit," Navarro said. "The cancer has not changed him a bit. Physically, maybe just this last month, you're starting to notice it with the hair loss and stuff like that. Apart from that, he's still the same."
Perez undergoes chemotherapy sessions every 21 days. When he's not fatigued from radiation treatments, Perez is at practice with his teammates.
"I'm just trying to help everyone out as much as I can," said Perez, who is being recruited by the University of San Diego and Northern Arizona University for football.
Perez is an inspiration for everyone on the team, players and coaches alike.
"His teammates see the challenge he faces and use that as motivation to succeed this season," Rio Rico head coach Zach Davila said. "He is physically and mentally the strongest kid I've ever coached."
The chemotherapy has taken its physical toll on Perez. Having a tough time keeping down food during treatment, his weight has dropped from 165 pounds last season to 147 pounds.
At 5-foot-9, Perez isn't an oversize back, but he's determined. That determination extends off the football field.
"I don't say this a lot, but he's pretty much the complete package," Navarro said. "Physically, he's not the fastest. He's not the strongest. He might be the quickest. But he's got the biggest heart, and I think that's what makes him a valuable player and a great person."
Once Perez is cleared to play, he's planning to get his weight back up. He'll need to get back into playing shape, too. But Perez believes he'll soon be ready to compete.
If this upcoming round of chemotherapy does the trick and his doctors at the University Medical Center in Tucson give Perez the OK, he should be able to play Sept. 15 in Rio Rico's fifth game against Rincon/University.
"I'm more than excited," Perez said. "I just want things to get over with so I can play again."
With six regular-games left at that point, Perez could reach back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. It might be a stretch to reach that milestone, but why doubt Perez?.
"He's the type of kid you can't tell him he can't do anything," Navarro said. "You tell him he can't do something, he's going to try and prove you wrong."
If Perez is cleared, his mind will be fresh when he hits the field and cancer will be an afterthought. But what he's endured for nearly five months won't totally escape him. Battling cancer has made Perez stronger — physically and mentally.
"Just the challenges made me more grateful and just to not take things for granted, because a lot of kids take things for granted," Perez said. "Kids right now don't even like to be at practice, don't even like to be at school. I wish I could go to school. I wish I could go to practice. And just my family, it has made me more grateful for things."
Like being able to play football again.