EVANS, Ga. (WJBF) — Life is precious. It’s fleeting. In many ways it’s like a book. Some chapters bring joy, some are tests of will. However, unlike a book, you never know when your story will come to an end.
“There were several days, up to a week there, where we were waiting on test results to tell us if our son was going to make it to Christmas time,” Tripp Haywood said. “Obviously, your first fear is the obvious, the elephant in the room so to speak, that you’re going to lose your child and no one is prepared for that. I certainly wasn’t.”
“Whenever I found out, my first thought was go to my parents,” Tanner Haywood said. “[I wanted] them to tell me I was going to be fine, but they can’t. Nobody can tell you you’re going to be fine.”
Tanner Haywood’s life changed forever on his 14th birthday. In March 2015, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that’s only found in approximately 200 teenagers per year. In Tanner’s case, two tumors were found in his right fibula.
It was football that gave him a fighting chance.
“The fact that he was injured during his 8th grade year in that right leg and the fact that some of the coaching staff here at Greenbrier told us to get it checked out before the season starts or he won’t be able to play, that’s what sparked the flame to get us [to the hospital] to get it looked at,” Tanner’s father, Tripp, said. “It may sound a little dramatic, but without that football injury we may have never known until it was too late.”
“If I hadn’t been playing football I wouldn’t have ever found it,” Tanner said. “I would have been [eaten] up with it and that would have been it. If I hadn’t played football, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
With less than a month remaining in 8th grade, Tanner was removed from school to begin chemotherapy.
“If you’re sitting by yourself, you think. You just keep on thinking and you overthink and you make up scenarios in your head and that’s what I would do,” Tanner said. “Occasionally, if my blood cells were all right, I could go hang out with my friends and whenever I was with my friends, I’d forget I had cancer. It was tough not being around friends and family.”
After the first six weeks of chemotherapy, Tanner was scheduled to have surgery to remove the tumors.
“The day we went in for surgery, as they were wheeling him back, the doctors looked at [us] and said, ‘when they get in there, it’s going to depend on the nerves and how they’re wrapped around this tumor. If they’re wrapped around this tumor in a way that I can’t address it, you may come out without a leg on that side, and you need to be prepared for that.'”
“It scared me for sure,” Tanner said. “But, I just trusted in the Lord and he already knows what’s going to happen, so I don’t need to worry about it, and that’s when I [realized] I was just along for the ride.”
The surgery lasted eight hours. The surgeons successfully removed the tumors, and while they had to removed the majority of his fibula, they managed to salvage Tanner’s leg.
“That was the most exciting day of my life. Whenever I realized I had a leg,” Tanner said. “It sounds minuscule, but I had a leg and that was the best day.”
Tanner still had to endure six additional months of chemotherapy, but it’s the lessons he’s learned playing football that got him through an agonizing chapter.
“In the total scheme of things, no, football doesn’t mean anything, but the principles you learn on the football field and the things you’re told to do when you’re playing football: never give up, adapt and overcome, winners find a way,” Tripp said. “Those are things you have to use when you’re dealing with something like cancer.”
Tanner’s story has been one of highs and lows.
Setbacks and triumphs.
Now, after more than a year and a half of being cancer free, Tanner and his family must once again endure the unimaginable. This week, just as he started his junior year at Greenbrier, they discovered his cancer has returned to multiple areas.
“I’d say I’ve hit a point where I can’t really freak out anymore,” Tanner said. “There’s no further stage I can hit. I’ve already hit stage one through 100,000. I kind of hit that point where I [realized] I can’t do anything. My parents can’t do anything. There’s nobody on this earth that can do anything. God is the only person I can turn to and he put it in my heart that I’m going to be just fine and if I’m not fine, if I die, I’m going to be with him.”
“I’m nervous as can be, but it’s just another step in my life I have to conquer.”
As Tanner showed once before, his story isn’t finished. He will attack this chapter with the same dauntless bravery.
If you’d like to support Tanner’s battle and follow his fight, please “like” the Team Tanner Facebook page.