Even though the stakes were higher than they could ever be in football, his favorite sport, Chaverri thought of leukemia as a tough and nasty opponent he had to defeat.
“I always felt like it was a competition. I’m going to beat cancer 21-0,” he said. “I’m not used to losing, and I’m not going to let cancer win.”
The West High senior has spent the past three years in the fight. Now that he’s about to wrap up monthly chemotherapy treatments, he’s making up for the time the illness kept him on the sidelines.
This fall, he’s back with the Wolf Pack football team and looks forward to being on the offensive and defensive lines for his senior year.
A deadly foe
In addition to his
6-0, 252-pound frame, he brings to the team the courage gained from having faced down a potentially deadly illness.
Chaverri, 17, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on Oct. 7, 2009, only a couple of weeks after he started to live his dream of playing football for his high school.
He had played two games with the West freshman team and looked forward to the crosstown game against Tracy High. That’s when the unexplained weakness, appetite loss and chronic illness, which had steadily increased during the course of a month and led to intense shoulder pain, forced him into the hospital.
“After I was diagnosed, I was asleep for like two months and woke up with a Broviac (catheter) in my chest, asking what was going on,” he said.
That turned into a nine-month stay at Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
At first, the chemotherapy treatments would last multiple days, then three or four times a week. Complications led to repeated episodes
of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, and also required removal of his spleen. He faced a month-long bout with diabetes after steroid treatments caused high blood sugar levels.
After all that, he still didn’t think the term “cancer patient” was appropriate.
“Through the whole treatment I was, ‘All right, I’m sick, and I’m going to get better,’” he said. “People would tell me, ‘You can’t go back to sports; you can’t do this.’ I was just, ‘Why? I’m just sick. I’ll be fine later.’”
About a year ago, he came to terms with the realization he had cancer. It was an emotional moment, but soon afterward, his doctors confirmed that the illness was on the retreat.
He has three more chemotherapy sessions scheduled, and after October he will go back just for blood tests and physical exams.
Focused on recovery
After what seemed like endless hours in the hospital, Chaverri feels a sense of relief — not just for himself, but for his family, which includes his mother, Lupe Chaverri, stepfather, Mauricio Flores, two sisters, two stepbrothers and a stepsister.
“I really just feel a lot better for my mom,” he said. “On some days, I wouldn’t feel good after a chemo treatment, or going through a symptom of it. I just had to smile, not just for myself, but for her.”
Part of his recovery
also is a tribute to his father, Frederico Chaverri, a classic car enthusiast who died in late 2000. Chaverri continues to restore a 1964 Dodge Dart, a car he acquired after the surgery to remove his spleen. He’s already put in the factory-standard slant-six motor, and he plans next to restore the interior and give it a coat of paint.
It’s one of the ways he stayed focused on the future.
Chaverri missed two football seasons, but he was active with the team as an assistant junior varsity coach. In late 2011, after doctors cleared him to go back into sports, he signed up for the wrestling team. In the spring, he joined the track and field team for the throwing events.
Football workouts started about a month before the 2011-12 school year ended, and he has been with the team through its summer sessions. He missed the first day of West’s July 9 to 11 team camp because of his now-monthly chemotherapy treatment, but he was there for the second and third days.
“If I’ve made it this far, I’m not going to let the chemo hold me back,” he said.
Chaverri said the first day back at camp was rough, but on the last day, he was competing on both sides of the ball.
While he doesn’t have 100 percent of his strength back, he figures 70 or 80 percent is enough to handle his opponents on the field until he’s back to full power.
“I feel like the seasons I missed, I should do three times the work to make up for it,” he said. “I plan on coming back and doing three times better.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.