With playing days over after fight for his life, St. James teammates still consider former TE part of squad

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SHAWNEE, Kan. -- It was a condition that began with one scary trip to the emergency room.

There isn't one single part of St. James Academy student Joel Sydzyik that doesn't miss playing football. He got a glimpse of his former passion Wednesday, as he visited his old varsity teammates in practice.

"This makes me feel like I'm alive again," Sydzyik could be heard saying with a smile.

Labor Day Weekend 2016. That's when Sydzyik's family sent him to the emergency room, as the high school sophomore complained of a bad cough and chest pains. They were stunned to learn he was living with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and a huge cancerous mass in his chest.

"It was pushing down on my trachea. I took an ambulance from the ER to the ICU at Children's (Mercy Hospital)" Sydzyik said.

Sydzyik says he endured several long hospital stays, surgery to install a chemotherapy port, and four phases of intense treatment. In the process, the tall teenager lost his hair and the medicines caused severe swings in his body weight.

"Things just came so quickly, I knew I had to keep a good attitude and deal with what came. I never really looked too far into the future, as far as my fears went," Sydzyik told FOX 4 News.

Sydzyik hasn't been pushed to the wayside at school, or by SJA's football program. Sydzyik, who had been a tight end for the Thunder, missed his entire junior year at the school, and his teammates missed him. However, his battle with cancer, as well as a serious low back injury, spelled the end of his playing days.

"Alright boys, who are we praying for and playing today?" Thunder Coach Tom Radke whispered, as his players gathered for a prayer to begin practice on Wednesday.

Sydzyik inspired the school to adopt the mantra "Be not afraid. No one fights alone." A large banner with that slogan hangs over an entryway at the Catholic school's campus in Johnson County.

"Every day, we start practice with a prayer," an emotional Radke told FOX 4 News. "This is a special group. The first thing they always say is they're praying for Joel."

"He's been through some rough times. Not as rough as his lymphoma, but he's been through some rough times. He's been able to persevere and fight through it," Thunder wide receiver Mitchell Walters said.

"It really means a lot when you know they're the ones praying for you. They're the ones thinking of you. They're the ones texting you everyday helping you get through that," Sydzyik said.

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Doctors in that area of expertise say 38 American children conclude their battle against cancer each week. Sydzyik has been declared cancer free, and he's planning to attend college, where he hopes to enter the science field.

St. James Academy (1-0) is set to take on Blue Valley Southwest (1-0) in our FOX 4 Hy-Vee Game of the Week. That game is due to begin at 7 p.m. at Bonner Springs High School.