Northeastern junior Marcus Josey gathers strength for leukemia fight
In a blur, Marcus Josey's life has changed.
A junior and two-sport athlete at Northeastern High School, he is known for being the starting quarterback. His mother, Andrea Josey, characterized her son as an athlete who knows his body.
When back pains came about two weeks ago, he sensed an irregularity. Nosebleeds followed and soon convinced Josey he had a form of cancer.
A diagnosis Friday at Hershey Medical Center confirmed Josey's suspicions. He has acute lymphocytic leukemia and is in Hershey undergoing chemotherapy to fight it.
"From the diagnosis to now, it hasn't hit me that this will affect me the rest of my life," Josey said Tuesday evening from his room.
Visits have been frequent from six siblings to his friends. His mother stays with him and exhibits a strong sense of confidence — which is inherited by her son — yet is overwhelmed by the support. She waits until everyone leaves by night's end to have personal, life conversations with her son. Those talks usually wait until everyone has left, including his girlfriend, Alexis Zayas, who departs after writing down all of his medicine.
Marcus Josey said he owes Zayas and has something in mind as a thank you once he is released from Hershey. He hopes that will be Thursday after some more chemotherapy.
Before this week, Josey was already coming back from a Lisfranc tear in his right foot that cost him nearly all of last fall's football season. That recovery was so much simpler. Everything seemed all right. He recovered to play basketball this winter and began training for football.
Then came those back pains.
"It was like no pain I ever felt before," Josey said.
More agitations followed, including night sweats and fatigue. Easter Sunday brought three nosebleeds, each lasting about an hour. Two more followed the next day, and Josey left school for one of a few trips to the doctor. Each one yielded a different diagnosis, which prompted Josey to search online for answers.
"I actually kind of diagnosed myself a week before," he said.
Josey sent text messages with conclusions to his mother while she taught her elementary class in York. At first, the messages were typical of him.
"Well, my son is diagnosing himself," Andrea Josey told other faculty.
An assembly Friday at Northeastern about leukemia and lymphoma brought on some more text messages. Marcus Josey couldn't believe how examples eerily matched his experiences. Afterward, his nose started to bleed during gym class. Josey has not been in school since then.
"He was insistent," Andrea Josey said. "He's an athlete and knows his body."
Like her, football coach Jon Scepanski didn't think too much when Josey asked to miss a weight lifting session after school earlier in the week. Scepanski told him to stay home and rest.
"When you're ready to come back, I'll see you then," he told Josey.
By Friday night, Andrea Josey called Scepanski with news of the diagnosis. Friends learned by Saturday morning as Northeastern students used "#Marcustrong" on Twitter to express support. Andrea Josey created a Facebook page, which she updates daily, usually by midnight. Three of Josey's football teammates, fellow juniors Jordan Zirkle, David Ankney and Gary Gobernik, had shirts printed in Mount Wolf to support him. The shirts include a football helmet with Josey's No. 6, a football with a ribbon and the "Marcustrong" slogan.
"It caught all of us off guard, especially with the football team," Ankney said. "With the injury, we were ready for him to come back. Then this happens. It kind of makes you step back and think."
The three of them have known Josey since he moved into the Northeastern district for fourth grade from York. They played youth football together, some played baseball and basketball. A group drove to Hershey on Sunday to spend the evening with him.
"When my friends came up on Sunday, that was the happiest time for me," Josey said. "I was finally smiling and having a good time. The support from everyone. People who don't even know me ... it's amazing."
And yet his smile is still as big as it was before. I love you Marc, and thanks for the support everyone #Marcustrongpic.twitter.com/V99r9Wg8YE— KayKay (@Kkjose29) April 12, 2015
The support came for a classmate, teammate and brother who exuded leadership — from his self diagnosis to convincing older sister Kirstin to compete Saturday at a track and field meet.
"Even since he was little, he's always been a leader and confident," Ankney said. "I, myself, look up to him. Mentally he just seems ahead of everyone."
Josey looked forward to being that leader this fall on the football field. He isn't worried about that now. Andrea Josey said her son will miss the rest of the school year with an exception.
Prom is still a possibility, and Zayas already bought her dress. If the next four weeks go well, Josey can take her.
"It gives me something to look forward to," he said. "It also allows me to repay Alexis for the support."
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
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Rivals in sports, now teammates vs cancer. #MARCUSTRONG#PrayForPetepic.twitter.com/GvCoah0h7M— Carly (@carbear04) April 14, 2015