Just before spring last year, Will Ayers, a 13-year-old student at Caledonia Middle School, had a procedure at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle.
When the results came in, he and his mother were at home in Steens, and his mother said they had to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
“He had seen the commercials,” Angie Ayers said of her son. “He asked if he had cancer.”
Will Ayers has been battling ever since.
The cancer is called desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. It is rare. It most often occurs in the abdomens of young men, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
There have been bad days. But the people who know Ayers say he never complains.
“You would not know he was sick, other than his bald head,” his mother said.
On April 26 at Green Oaks Golf Club, the golf course and the Caledonia High School golf team are hosting a benefit tournament to help Ayers and his family offset costs.
He has taken about 45 rounds of chemotherapy at St. Judes. Each time he finishes a week’s worth of the treatment his mother and father drive him back home to Lowndes County. He’s 14 now. When he’s feeling O.K. he plays video games, or a little basketball, or roots on the Alabama Crimson Tide football team. He played football for the junior-high team at Caledonia before the cancer came.
It happened like this: In March 2012, he had a procedure to remove a kidney stone. Roughly 10 months later he went for a follow-up exam and something was amiss. More studies followed and eventually the diagnosis came. When he heard his mother say they were going to St. Jude he took it in stride.
“Basically, he just said, ‘Whatever,'” Angie Ayers said. “He has never gotten upset or asked, ‘Why me?'”
He would be in the ninth grade at Caledonia High School had he not gotten sick. He hasn’t been in school since Feb. 8, 2013 — the day of his diagnosis, his mother said.
Last season, the Caledonia seventh-grade football team put the number “80” — Ayers’ number — on their helmets. The team hung his jersey in their locker room. They painted his number on the field at homecoming, said football coach James Moore, who has coached at Caledonia for eight years.
Moore called Ayers an inspiration.
“What I mean is, it is a bad situation but it has brought the school together,” he said. “The students have rallied up behind him.”
Moore oversees a weight lifting program at the school. For a little more than a year now, whenever the student-athletes finish a workout, they do something extra for Ayers. Sometimes more pushups. Sometimes a simple prayer.
“He’s an inspiration,” Moore said of Ayers.
St. Jude and the health insurance he has take care of the medical bills. But the cost of going back and forth to Memphis for treatments has added up and Angie Ayers, who works at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle, has missed work caring for her son.
A couple of fundraisers have been held. Moore has sold bracelets with the words, “Will To Win” and “Prayers For Ayers,” written on them. He wears one himself.
“Haven’t taken it off,” he said.
In July, Ayers had a 12-hour-plus surgery that removed 98 percent of his cancer, his mother said. Another surgery, which will focus on his liver, is scheduled for April 25.
The next day, the benefit golf tournament — a three-person scramble — will take place at Green Oaks Golf Club. There are two starting times — 8 a.m. and noon. The cost is $40 per player. Lunch is provided. The Caledonia High School golf team is taking part. All proceeds will go to the Ayers family. To sign up call 662-328-3879 or go by the golf club at 326 Green Oaks Drive.
There is a Facebook page dedicated to Ayers’ recovery called “Prayers for Ayers.”
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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