Blood Cancer

College baseball player faces leukemia battle after 'shock' diagnosis

Justin thought he was coming down with strep or mono.

Justin thought he was coming down with strep or mono.  (GoFundMe)

When antibiotics failed to work on Justin Graham, he asked his West Virginia State University baseball coach to help him figure out what was making him ill. In January, the sophomore outfielder headed to the clinic with Coach Sean Loyd and was told he had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

“It was definitely a shock. I didn’t know what to think when they first told me because we went into it not expecting anything like that,” Graham, 20, told The Charleston Gazette-Mail. “It was really hard to take. But then we just started right away trying to figure out what to do to try to get it taken care of.”

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Graham returned to his family in Kentucky and has been undergoing treatment at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center. A GoFundMe page set up on his behalf has helped raise more than $23,000 and, as word spread around school his teammates and other athletes reached out and helped his circle of supporters grow, the report said.

“It’s like a boxing match,” Graham told the news outlet. “I know I’ve got people in my corner — a great family taking care of me, an amazing group of doctors that are treating me — but at the end of the day it’s about me stepping into the ring so to speak, and fighting this thing as hard as I can.”

AML starts in the bone marrow, but can quickly spread to the blood with the potential to enter other organs, according to the American Cancer Society. Prior to a diagnosis, patients may experience weight loss, fatigue, fever, night sweats or loss of appetite, which are not exclusive to AML. In Graham’s case, he believed he was dealing with the early signs of strep throat or maybe even mono.

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“It’s not a quick thing. It’s a nine-round fight, but you’ve got to stick to it. There are going to be times where I don’t feel well, but I can emerge victorious from this thing and be even stronger one day,” Graham told The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The red-shirt outfielder is gearing up for a bone marrow transplant, which will come from his 17-year-old sister Janae, the news outlet reported. The transplant will occur after he completes his third round of chemotherapy.

“Knowing I have all these people who are caring for me, praying for me and pulling for me, there’s no way I’m not going to fight,” Graham told the news outlet. “You see that much support and it makes you want to fight that much harder and beat this thing and overcome it. That’s my goal right now, and that’s what I’m going to do.”