Through all the hospital visits, sickness and all grueling chemotherapy, Jacksyn McIntyre held firm to one goal: playing varsity soccer alongside his older brother Bradyn.
Cancer wasn’t going to get in his way.
“My whole process through this was I’m going to beat it, I’m going to be ready to play and I’m going to work harder to be better than I was before,” Jacksyn McIntyre said. “I never thought I wasn’t going to beat it.”
McIntyre did beat cancer, and he’s kept it in check for more than 1,000 days now. When he reached that milestone Oct. 15, McIntyre was well into his sophomore season on Blue Springs South’s soccer team. He’s a forward and the Jaguars’ top goal-scorer, and his senior big brother is right there with him.
“If you just went out and watched a match, you would never know that he was ever sick,” Jaguars soccer coach Jon Grice said. “And for that to have taken place in such a short time ago, that’s just a testament to him and his willingness to overcome any obstacle you throw at him.”
McIntyre’s biggest obstacle came at him in April 2016 when he found a swollen lymph node in his neck. That July, he started getting stomach pains.
“They just kept telling me I just had anxiety and stuff,” McIntyre said.
But the pain persisted, and a CT scan later that summer revealed swollen nodes around his stomach and heart. Only 13, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the lymphatic system. Doctors told him he had an excellent chance of beating it, but beating it would require six rounds of chemotherapy.
“You don’t expect something like this to happen to you, and when it happens to your baby brother, it’s just like a total shock,” Bradyn McIntyre said. “You just really don’t know how to take any of that.”
Jacksyn has two older brothers and one older sister, and he’s always been the high-energy baby of the family. That made it even harder for Bradyn and the rest of the family to watch the chemo sap Jacksyn’s strength and energy.
“I went to school every day from 8-8:30 to like noon,” Jacksyn said. “And I’d go home and sleep for like three hours and then I’d come and watch his soccer game. Then I’d go home and be in bed by 8 o’clock and be tired from just walking.”
Jacksyn would find comfort talking soccer with Bradyn, a passion they both shared since they were little. The two had played on the same club teams before, but their biggest dream was to be Jaguars together.
The thought that it might not happen crossed Bradyn’s mind, but he knew his little brother was a fighter.
“The thought that it might not be a possibility really hurt,” Bradyn said. “But I knew he was so hard-working, I was almost certain he was going to get through it and we were going to be fine.”
Jacksyn responded well to the treatment, and by mid-January 2017 he received a clean bill of health. But the chemo – and the six months he couldn’t play – took its toll. He also had to wait until the port used to pump the drugs into his body was surgically removed from his chest.
A month later, he played two games with his club team at the Sports Lodge.
“It was awesome,” Jacksyn said. “I scored in the first game. It was an indoor game, but it was just great to be out there.”
Jacksyn wasted no time working himself back up to full speed. A regular in Blue Springs South’s summer camp since he was little, he’d already caught Grice’s eye as an eighth grader and often worked out with his older brother and the Jaguars. At the time, Grice feared Jacksyn might have been working too hard.
“Early on it was more often than not I was telling him, ‘Hey, slow down,’” Grice said. “We need you to take it down a little; you’re freaking me out. That’s just a testament to his passion for the game and for life, really.”
Since then Jacksyn has worked his way into being the main force in the Jaguars’ attack. He has 15 goals this season and big brother has 10 for the 8-11 Jaguars, who face host Lee’s Summit Monday in the first round of the Class 4 District 13 tournament.
“We played together a lot when we were little because he was always so driven to play with me,” Bradyn said. “We’ve always had that kind of chemistry with each other. I always know what he’s going to do because we’ve been playing together for so long and he knows what I want to do. We always work well together and it shows on the field.”
It also shows Jacksyn’s gratitude for getting to play again, something that didn’t seem certain a thousand days ago. Not that the thought ever crossed his mind.
“He shows us every day that life is tough and life isn’t fair and you go through things here and there,” Grice said. “With a positive attitude and more importantly with a lot of hard work, you can get back to where you want to be.”