Houston Baptist center fielder plays while fighting lymphoma

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Houston Baptist center fielder Jonathan Ducoff is trying to help the Huskies win games while he's undergoing treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center for follicular lymphoma.

According to the Lymphoma Research Foundation follicular lymphoma is the most common, slow-growing, form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Lymphoma occurs when cells of the immune system called lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, grow and multiply uncontrollably.

Follicular lymphoma is usually found in someone who is age 60 or older.

Ducoff, who is 22, was diagnosed with the disease following a routine procedure for a sports hernia in December.

"I remember sitting there. I was on the couch with my mom and dad," Ducoff said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. My initial emotion is always to suppress things. I've always been someone that kind of tries to hold things in even when it's not a good time to do it.

"I toughed it out, honestly at first. I told myself I was prepared for it, but it didn't take long before just spending some time around my parents and really breaking down.

"The truth is my faith has brought me through all of this. When I first got the news I told myself 'hey it's okay,' and once it had time to sink in, I was scared. There's no doubt about that.  I was very, very scared at first.

"It was all the unknown. I had never heard of follicular lymphoma, and to be frank, I didn't want to Google it and find out anything about it.

Ducoff, at first, feared the worst.

"I heard the word Lymphoma. I heard cancer," Ducoff said. "I was afraid I would go to the doctor and find out it wasn't something that was treatable or curable.

"Come to find out that's it actually one of the most treatable and curable types of lymphoma to get."

Then Ducoff had to deal with waiting about a week in January for his doctor at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Dr. Nathan Fowler, to do another biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

"I kind of digested it and said 'okay, that's okay. That's something we can handle,' but there was the off chance the diagnosis wasn't quite right," Ducoff said.

"So they were going to redo the biopsies and they were redoing them to check to make sure I didn't have large cell or Hodgkin's lymphoma, which while very curable, is also very scary stuff.

Once Ducoff got through all of that he was able to get a treatment plan that allowed him to pursue his love of playing the game of baseball.

"It's called immunotherapy," Ducoff said. "It's teaching your body to basically kill the cancer itself, and I opted to do that because they're seeing very good results. Kind of the same results they're seeing with the chemotherapy right now, while having a lot less side effects.

"I'm still doing an oral chemotherapy pill every night with a lot more mild side effects than you would with traditional chemo.

"I don't feel that different. I'm blessed to be able to say that. The new drugs that they're giving me, yes there are side effects. When I go home at night, 8, 9 o'clock, all I want to do is go to sleep. I get tired. I don't have the traditional chemotherapy reactions. I feel pretty close to normal."

Dr. Fowler, director of research for lymphoma at MD Anderson Cancer Center, developed the regimen being used to help rid Ducoff of the lymphoma.

"We're using a patient's immune system to attack the cancer," Dr. Fowler said. "What we found by doing that is that we're getting results that are very similar, sometimes even better than chemotherapy.

"Fortunately, the treatment that he's on is well-tolerated by most people. It does not have a lot of side effects, and most patients can continue their normal life.This is a great, great thing. This the wave of the future in cancer treatments.

And clearly Ducoff was fortunate to have the lymphoma discovered during a routine procedure.

"It wasn't life-threatening when I saw him, but if left untreated it could become life-threatening," Dr. Fowler said. "Without treatment this cancer can be deadly."

Ducoff has no doubt he will win his battle with follicular lymphoma.

"No sir, not at all," Ducoff said. "The people at MD Anderson are unbelievable. I'm surrounded by some of the best doctors in the world, especially for the disease that I have. There's no doubt in my mind. The only question is hopefully is it going to be at three months or six months when we put it into remission."

Meanwhile Ducoff, who was a highly thought of player coming out of Kingwood Park High School, initially went to Baylor where he played for two years before transferring to HBU following a coaching change with the Bears.

Ducoff has played in seven of the Huskies first nine games, and is hitting .261 with a pair of doubles.

"My dad joked with me earlier, whenever I started going through it," Ducoff said. "He said that baseball was the third drug that I was taking to cure me."

Huskies coach Jared Moon is on the same page with Jonathan's dad.

"Jonathan's had a great attitude about it," Moon said. "He's strong in his faith. I texted him while he was in the hospital, that if God brought you to it, God's going to bring you through it.

"If you looked out on our field and if you didn't know who he was, you wouldn't know he was the one that was sick, just watching him play.

"It definitely puts everything into perspective. We're always in it to win, but no matter how well we do this year, our biggest win is going to be when Jonathan's cancer-free."

And Jonathan cannot wait for that moment to come.

"Every day when I go down there they give me a wristband and it's got the date on it and it's got my name," Ducoff said. "I'm looking forward to the day that I rip off that last wristband and put it on my wall and say that's the day this thing was gone."

Ducoff could not be more thankful for the help he has received from HBU.

 "The coaching staff and the people at HBU and the whole athletic department have been so good to me through everything, everything from my transfer here and going through a fairly tough time at that point, and sticking with me through that year to this now and how they're handling me through the treatments," Ducoff said. "I love this school, the university and the program."

Ducoff's battle with cancer has brought him new goals that were not on his radar before he was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.

He has seen many children waging their own battles at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and he wants to do anything he can to help with the battle against childhood cancer.

"Whenever I go to MD Anderson and I still feel okay, and I see 5, 6, 7-year-old kids in there, they're the true heroes, They're the tough ones, and I want to do something for them."

Jonathan also wants to help with those who are suffering from diseases like the one he is dealing with.

"There are a couple of lymphoma organizations here in Houston that I want to start donating my time to," Ducoff said.

So even with all that he has on his plate, Ducoff is focusing on others who are suffering as well.

"The way I was raised," Ducoff said. "I don't think that anything doesn't happen for a reason, and I definitely don't think that the reason was for this to bring attention to me, but it's to bring attention to others and bring love to others."