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Home > Health & Fitness > Cancer, Soccer and Chanukah

Cancer, Soccer and Chanukah
As a little boy battles cancer, special people
bring normalcy and joy into his life

Jewish Renaissance Media
December 20, 2000

Atlanta Jewish Times
Justin Markowitz
It was a typical fall afternoon on the ball fields of Atlanta's Jewish Community Center. Colorfully uniformed children of all ages raced feverishly between soccer goals-chasing the ball, pounding it with their feet, trying to tally one for the team. Shouts of "pass it, Alex" and "attaway, Ryan" rang out, as parents and coaches encouraged their kids to score, to defend, to have fun.

On one sideline, Justin Markowitz, 6, was sitting in his mother's lap, wrapped tightly in her arms. Having just completed a brutal 8-week round of chemotherapy, Justin felt too unsteady, too sick to join his teammates and play the game he loved.

That was OK with his mom and dad, Lorie and Jay. They knew how weak their little boy was, his strength sapped by surgery and a cocktail of chemicals aimed at helping fight leukemia. So if Justin didn't want to play that day, well, that was just fine. They were happy he could just enjoy some fresh air again; be around the gang again. And this way, he wouldn't get hurt.

But just as they were getting comfortable with the notion that, for the time being, Justin wouldn't be able to do what "regular" kids could, coach David Meline approached and stretched out his hand. "Come on buddy," he said, "the team needs you."

Adrenaline shot through Justin's body, sending his feelings of pain and fear packing. In a move as smooth as a Maradona header, Justin cast his mother's arms aside, adjusted his cap, took David's hand, ran onto the field, and played his big heart out.

"I was scared out of my wits," recalls Lorie. "Scared he'd get knocked down by bigger kids. Scared he'd break a leg. He was so weak."

Justin did get knocked down. But he also got up. Justin did get winded, but he also scored a goal during a 10-game stretch in which he did not miss a regular turn. And through it all, his parents worried and cheered.

"David asking Justin to play was a real turning point for him," said Lorie. "It was one of the best things that has happened to him through this ordeal. He saw he could be just a regular kid again."

What Justin, a smiley, self-assured three-year veteran of the MJCCA's youth soccer and baseball programs, loved most about playing was "waiting on the wing for the ball to come so I could head toward the goal." Just a regular kid.

Well, not really. Over the next three years, Justin will undergo a battery of treatments to thwart acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Though scary, the prognosis is good. Nearly 80 percent of kids who suffer from this particular disease are expected to recover, says Lorie. But still, Justin and his family will need the community's continued support.

Cancer has a way of bringing out the good in people; exposing the limitless compassion that lies in our hearts and souls. I know; I'm a cancer survivor myself. And I can tell you that, though most people often look at cancer victims as "heroes" for being "so strong" through our ordeals, that's not exactly the truth.

All we're doing is what we're supposed to do-fight to survive. We're left with little real choice. The true heroes are those who offer the necessary love and assistance-to us and our families-to help us confront our would-be assassins.

Chanukah is a time when the Jewish people put menorot in our windows to publicize the miracle of the holiday - and the miracle that is Jewish survival. Those who help cancer patients embody this holiday, as they create small miracles of survival and love each and every day.

This Chanukah, as you gaze into the lights of your menorah and say the blessings, please add a word for Justin and the tens of millions of Americans wounded by cancer. And after opening your presents, make sure to decide, together with your children, what you will do, however big or small, to help brighten the days of these people.

Come on, buddy, the team needs you.

Jacob Schreiber is editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times, a Jewish Renaissance Media newspaper.

© Jewish Renaissance Media, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.

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