Theo and Justin
Theo Spiller’s family moved from Colorado to Troy, Illinois, last year. The first friend he made at his new high school was Justin Swift. Both played football and just hit it off.
“He’s real cool,” Theo said. “We both love football and have been best friends since.” At the end of the last school year, Theo and Justin found they had something else in common. A lump on Theo’s neck was biopsied and diagnosed as malignant. He was referred to the Costas Cancer Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The lump on Theo’s neck had been visible a long time, “but it never bothered me. At the end of school we decided to get surgery and see what it was. It came out to be cancer.”
Theo began a rigorous schedule of chemotherapy. One of his biggest supporters turned out to be Justin, who was treated for leukemia at Glennon in 2002.
“Justin has been a real big help,” said Theo, a 17-year-old junior at Troy Triad High School. “He told me what to expect and what not to expect, and how you get cravings for different things. He got all of the chemos I have been getting, plus more.”
Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer of the lymphatic system, a network of tissues that stretches throughout the body and performs a variety of functions. After the diagnosis, Theo began visiting Glennon in three-week cycles that included a three-day stay one week and a one-day visit the following week.
The treatments continued into the new school year and the beginning of football season. Theo did his best to keep up with school work and practice for the football team, on which he plays fullback and linebacker.
“Fatigue affected my football and my running,” he said. “I had to keep my exercise to a minimum and take time to recover after I exercised.”
Football motivated Theo to maintain a positive attitude and work hard. “I love football,” he said. “That’s just how it is.”
His doctor and nurses at Glennon also kept his spirits high. “They spoil me here,” he laughed.
“I always tell him to hang in there,” said Justin, who underwent six months of chemotherapy at Glennon when he was 10 years old. “He is doing a lot better than I was. I tell him not to push himself too hard. I don’t want him to get sicker. I would like to help him anyway possible. I am glad I am there for him.”
Justin, who plays left tackle on the offensive line, celebrated his fifth year in remission from cancer in 2007 and will continue to have annual checkups. His last visit to the Costas Center was last summer, when he came to keep Theo company. “My health has been good. I got to start playing football in school last year.”
One of Theo’s mentors in school is Beth Frank, who taught his algebra class last year. “He still comes in almost every day to say ‘Hi’ or borrow a calculator or something,” she said. “He is an overall great kid who is very loving and cares about his family as much as they care about him.
At the end of the last school year, Frank presented Theo with her “Personal Choice Award,” a school tradition in which each teacher selects a student who does good work in school and is “an all-around good person.
Theo received a greater award in early October from William S. Ferguson, M.D., director of hematology and oncology at the Costas Center.
“Dr. Ferguson was talking about the possibility that Theo was going to need radiation therapy after chemo,” said his stepmother, Carisa Spiller. “Then we found out that he now has no tumor activity. They are talking about taking his port out. Everything could go back to normal! He could go back to school and playing ball without worrying about what could happen to him.”
Theo will continue to visit Glennon for exams. In the meantime, he was allowed to take the field the during the Knights’ homecoming game in October. His coach allowed him to run only six plays, concerned about the catheter port Theo still wore under his uniform for chemotherapies.
But he did play. And the Triad Knights beat Mascoutah High School 43-17.