Alive and kicking, after battle with cancer

From the editor

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BRAD SPENCER

Ooops. You just made a terrible decision. You shooed that polite young man off your porch only because you thought he was trying to sell you something. Well, maybe he was trying to sell you something, compassion. You see, that young man, his back to you while walking down your porch steps, is Brad Clarke, local Superman. He's helping his former youth soccer organization, the Strikers, raise money to fight childhood cancer. As part of Kicks for Cancer, several Strikers players will juggle a soccer ball 200 times per day during five-day team camps beginning Monday.

What? That doesn't interest you? I understand. Let that young man walk away then. I won't hold it against you. At least he's walking again, or, for that matter, breathing on his own again.

At a very early age Brad Clarke was a star athlete. He was talented, skillful, and determined. He excelled at soccer and running cross-country. Clarke's club soccer team ended up winning a tournament in Europe.

When he was 12 years old and in the 8th grade at Percy Julian Middle School, Clarke ran a cross-country race with just one of his lungs functioning. He still finished in the top 10, but lungs aren't supposed to collapse. Doctors told him it was Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer in the blood.

Pity is not my intention here. But go ahead, let him walk away. He'll be fine with your spurn. As I mentioned, he is Superman.

Clarke underwent chemo and the therapy seemed to work. The only problem was his immune system shut down. He developed a major sepsis infection and nearly died. He was on life-support for two weeks. He suffered a blood clot in his heart and the infection eventually settled in his left knee. Clarke was a mess.

He really shouldn't be walking down your sidewalk right now, bounding up the neighbor's porch steps.

"At Loyola [Medical Center] he's considered the 'Miracle kid,'" says Brad's father Dave. "He barely survived."

Don't be jealous that your neighbor is chatting with Clarke and signing her name to a sponsor sheet. Perhaps she asked him about the scars on his left knee.

He underwent four major surgeries on the leg. The cartilage had been so destroyed from the infection that it separated itself from the bone. Dr. Brian Cole, the same orthopedist who works with the Chicago Bulls, put Clarke's leg back together again.

It was a slow process, but Clarke has recovered from both the cancer and the toll the treatment took on his body. He's been in remission for two years. Yes, he missed 8th grade entirely, making freshman year at OPRF High School that much more awkward, but he's found his place now. He was on last year's OPRF varsity soccer team, and is expected to make the team again this season, his senior year.

The cancer? He shrugs it off now. "It was a battle you go through and then you just get on with your life," says Clarke, who has been coaching kids in numerous sports for the park district this summer.

Go ahead, shout down the street if you have to. Let the neighbors see you in your bathrobe. Ask Brad Clarke how life is right now.

He'll turn and answer you with a smile, "Life, life is awesome!"

Now get out there and sign that sponsor sheet.

For more information on sponsoring the Strikers Kicks for Cancer, contact Michele Donley at 848-0780.

CONTACT: bspencer@wjinc.com

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