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Weishar’s team gang-tackles cancer

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:20AM



Andrew Weishar has endured a lot of things over the last 13 months. An interview might seem to be the least of these, especially given the Midlothian 20-year-old’s easy demeanor throughout.

Yet, at his kitchen table one afternoon last week, with a patient grin he conceded, “I don’t like attention, really.”

So he endures an interview. Happy Mother’s Day, Jean Weishar.

Mom laid everything out in an email: Andrew played football and basketball at Brother Rice, was a freshman defensive tackle at Illinois Wesleyan. Then he got sick. At 19, diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Debilitating chemotherapy and a massive, life-altering surgery followed. She said the community helped him through, and Andrew helped his family through. No kidding.

“I can’t get over what a positive, heart-warming attitude he has,” Jean said. “If not for that, I don’t know how we all could have survived this. That’s why I’m so proud of him.”

She’s proud, too, that Andrew is training for a 5K on June 5 — a date not 10 months after his surgery — which serves as a fundraiser for the Oak Lawn Ronald McDonald House. She wanted to brag on him a bit. He relented, because his story might help someone else.

In fall 2009, Andrew was a 245-pound defensive tackle at Wesleyan. The 6-foot-2 former two-sport captain and Illinois State Scholar at Rice went back after Christmas break looking to add weight for 2010.

Instead “weight just kind of seemed to be falling off. I was getting terrible stomach aches and stuff like that.”

Finally, on April 1, down to 220, he had a colonoscopy.

On April 5, he got the results — Andrew knew they’d be bad when the doctor told his dad, Don, to sit down. Then came chemo and radiation, and what he thought would be surgery — Andrew knew it was bad when he came to and found out they’d closed him back up without removing anything.

“Then my mom and dad told me they wanted me to go to Mayo,” he said of the world-famous clinic in Rochester, Minn. “I broke down after the Mayo part.”

There have been few breakdowns since. Sure, when you have a bunch of your insides taken out and it changes the way you go about some of the most fundamental business of human existence, some thoughts go through your head.

“How am I going to be later on, as an adult,” Andrew recounted, “and have to live with this?”

Like an athlete, it turns out. You gather your team and get to it.

That included friends from Wesleyan — where Andrew, an accounting major, will return in the fall as a sophomore student coach — from youth football in Oak Forest, from St. Damian’s parish, from Brother Rice and the neighborhood around the Midlothian Country Club, all of whom filled trees with blue ribbons and Andrew’s facebook page with messages of support.

It included Mom, a volleyball player at Oak Forest and Northwestern, and Andrew’s younger brother, Dan, a volleyball standout at Rice. Then there’s the youngest, Nic — “My little traitor,” Andrew calls him — a freshman basketball player at Marist, of all places.

And above all, there’s Don’s philosophy, and Andrew’s too.

“You quickly learn that it’s so much easier once you have a positive mind-set,” Andrew said. “That’s how I was brought up — it’s kind of part of the ‘let go of the last play’ type of attitude.”

So when the second round of chemo knocked him for a loop, his brothers brought him whatever he needed — from the warmish water he had to drink because he was so sensitive to the cold, to a refreshing brattiness.

“My brothers, they understood,” he said. “But they also kept everything as normal as possible. We get in a lot of arguments, and those never stopped.”

Neither has Andrew’s competitiveness.

Running was the option he found. He’ll run in June with other cancer survivors. He runs three miles a day now, about four or five days a week. Since contact sports are out of the question now, maybe he’ll keep it up. Maybe not, as he hasn’t yet stumbled across the elusive “runner’s high.”

“Absolutely not,” he said, laughing. “I don’t see myself ever wanting to run a marathon. But you never know. That’s what goals are for.”



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