The course stretches out before him, green and inviting, as Brady Lucas plants a tee in the ground and rests an orange golf ball on top of it. It is around 1 on a Tuesday afternoon, the sun pouring down and a light breeze puffing in his face.
Brady has always been a golfer. His life has been shaped by so much more, of course -- by the two bouts of cancer, by the endless nights spent in hospital beds and, later, by the purpose those nights would give him.
But before all that, there was golf.
There was a father with his infant son in his lap, rocking his arms back and forth in a mock swing.
There was a boy who spent hours on the practice green in the family's backyard, lining up one putt after another.
So now that his 16-year-old body feels strong again -- now that he finally feels like a normal kid again -- Brady spends a lot of time at the golf course. On this day he is playing Briarwood East, his home course with the West York golf team.
On the tee box, Brady takes two quick practice swings. "I don't like to waste time," he will say later.
Then he raises his driver's chrome-colored head behind him and whips it down. Whack! The shot drifts right and settles in the rough, about 230 yards away.
Brady slings his black golf bag over his shoulder and begins the march forward, his purple hat cocked upward and his clubs chattering behind him with each step.
The images are catalogued on Tom Lucas' iPhone. They are wisps of levity mostly, set against the struggle that has taken up nearly half of his middle son's life.
Here is a picture of Brady in a hospital bed, smiling before one of the hundreds of procedures that helped save his life.
Here are Brady's siblings, older brother Ryan and younger brother Shaun, shaving their own heads to match their brother's.
Here's a video of Brady in his hospital room on the seventh floor of
"He's grown up in a hurry," Tom said over lunch one afternoon, Brady seated across the table from him.
Brady was 8 when he was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a type of blood cancer most commonly found in children. The kid who was a ball of energy -- the one who, as a basketball player, would earn the nickname "The Mop" because he dove on the floor so much -- had been feeling rundown then, sapped by headaches and fatigue.
Doctors finally identified the disease on April 14, 2005. Tom remembers a scene that day outside of the Hershey medical center. The hospital said it wouldn't have a bed ready for Brady until later that day. Tom and Brady's mother, Lisa Lucas, decided to take Brady to nearby Chocolate World. "Spoil the hell out of him," Tom said. "Because I don't think he knew what was about to happen."
While they waited for a shuttle bus, Brady looked up.
"Leukemia. Isn't that cancer?" he asked.
"Yeah, Brady," Tom said.
"Hmm." Brady paused and looked down. "Am I going to lose my hair?"
Back at the course, Brady has finished five holes. He just breezed through a short par 3, knocking his tee shot stiff and depositing an easy two-putt.
Golf remained a part of him, even when Brady couldn't play. A few years ago, he and his father started the Brady C. Lucas Golf Outing to benefit the Four Diamonds Fund for pediatric cancer support and research. The annual event was held for the fifth time last Sunday, and has raised about $109,000 since its inception.
As he walks toward the next tee, Brady is asked about the low point of his ordeal. The treatment for his first case of leukemia lasted 31/2 years before he was finally deemed clean, in July 2008.
For two years, life went back to something resembling normal.
Then came the wallop. It was September 20, 2010. The symptoms came crashing back. A trip to the emergency room confirmed: The cancer had returned.
"The toughest part was going online, reading about what might happen," Brady said, before lashing a drive down the fairway. "They always tell you you should do that, but I don't think you should."
The long-term prognosis is generally positive for first-time ALL sufferers -- the five-year survival rate for children is nearly 90 percent, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. If the cancer returns, however, that number dips significantly.
In Brady's case, there was an added complication. The aggressive chemotherapy and radiation he received years earlier had ravaged his liver. Doctors didn't want to bombard his body with a similar combination this time. They agreed the best option would be a bone marrow transplant.
In the meantime, Brady kept his spirits up. His parents loaded up his hospital room with a 32-inch TV and an Xbox. Brady video chatted with friends on his laptop.
After the shock of his re-diagnosis wore off, the ebullient personality returned.
"He never thought he wasn't going to get through it," Lisa Lucas said. "With a lot of kids, that becomes their definition -- they're the kid with cancer. He never wanted that to define him."
"He smiles through everything," said Kevin Rice, Brady's friend and West York golf teammate. "I don't even know how he does it."
Before long, the good news arrived: Brady's brother Shaun, then 10, had come up as a match for a bone marrow transplant. On February 2, 2011, doctors drew 24 ounces of Shaun's bone marrow and infused it into Brady's body.
Brady spent the next 17 days in isolation, not allowed to leave his room. He would need two more hospital stays the following summer -- the first to treat a case of graft-versus-host disease, a common complication from bone marrow transplant; the second to snuff out an onset of infections, including pneumonia, in his lungs.
Brady missed his entire sophomore golf season, along with 27 days of school.
Little by little, his body began to mend. He became a regular in the student section at West York football and basketball games, often dressed in gaudy costumes -- a banana, a Hawaiian skirt, even a Santa Claus body suit.
At school, he maintained a 94 percent average. His fellow students elected him as their class president.
"He's truly a positive force," said Bill Ackerman, the coach of West York's golf and basketball teams. "It's a fascinating thing to watch, the influence he has on kids around him just by being there."
"I think getting re-diagnosed opened me up a lot," Brady added. "It made more outgoing. ... Not caring so much about what people think."
In the meantime, that purpose -- the one that had taken root years earlier -- came further into focus. Brady's golf tournament was just the start. He wants to attend Penn State in a few years, then go to medical school and become a pediatric oncologist. He wants to share his experience with other cancer patients. "Show them that they're going to have a good recovery," Brady said.
"At this point, I can't see myself doing anything else."
At Briarwood, Brady is finishing his round.
The cancer has left a lasting physical imprint. Brady's immune system still operates at around half the capacity of a normal person. He still must visit the hospital every month or so for check-ups. His blood counts are regularly monitored.
One more consequence: Brady was told he cannot play contact sports anymore. Besides the occasional pick-up game, The Mop has been forced into retirement.
After it all, there is still golf -- the game that hooked him as a kid, and has come to represent something even more.
"It lets me actually be normal in a sport," Brady said. "To go out there and be able to play without limitations."
Brady expects to contribute to West York's team this fall. His scores have hovered in the low-80s lately. He thinks they will continue to shrink.
On his final hole of the day, Brady finds his ball -- orange to represent leukemia awareness -- buried in the rough, 70 yards from the hole. He pulls a sand wedge from his bag, then lines up and takes a swing. The contact is crisp. The ball floats into the air, tracking toward a spot on the green just left of the pin.
Brady watches it go, the sun in his face.