High Schooler Beats the Odds, Cancer, to Return to the Field

© Jennifer Reissfelder

Blue Hills Regional football player returns after cancer battle

© Jennifer Reissfelder

© Jennifer Reissfelder

By Patrick O’Rourke
BU News Service

Keith Reissfelder stepped onto Blue Hills Regional Technical High School’s new artificial turf field on September 11, the start of his senior football season. That was when he knew he was back.

The field was installed at the Canton school last fall, during Keith’s junior season. However, he had never experienced the new surface, since he didn’t play his junior season. It was all new, but new had been everything but foreign in the previous year of Keith’s life.

It all began in August 2014. Keith was getting ready for football season at Blue Hills, coming off a strong sophomore season in which he was the starting quarterback, leading the Warriors to an 8-3 record. He had a pain around his knee, and went to the doctor to get it checked out, trying to get to the bottom of what was causing the pain. Was it bruise? Could it be sprain? A pull? A stress fracture?

It was cancer.

“My dad had to come out and break the news to me,” said Keith. “My first thoughts were my family, how they were going to go about it. My second thought was ‘how bad was it?’ I didn’t know anything about that type of cancer.”

The diagnosis was diffused large-B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. An X-ray showed a lesion around his knee, which turned out to be a tumor in the distal femur, which stretches from the knee to hip bone. The tumor had derived from the blood.

“I kind of blacked out [when I heard the diagnosis],” said Jennifer Reissfelder, Keith’s mother. “It was the worst day of our lives.”

Thankfully, the prognosis was good. Keith’s cancer was in its the early stages, and was localized to the area around the knee. Nine weeks of chemotherapy was to follow.

“We weren’t given any reason to think he wasn’t going to be cleared after [the chemo],” said Jennifer.

On October 17, 2014, he was declared cancer-free. The ordeal was over. Keith had been happier than he had ever been, but not because he was cured of cancer.

© Jennifer Reissfelder

© Jennifer Reissfelder

© Jennifer Reissfelder

© Jennifer Reissfelder

“I had probably been the happiest I had ever been [when I was going through treatment],” said Keith. “Instead of focusing on all these things going on around me and stressing on it, I kind of just looked at life and looked at all the people around me and saw what I really had and what was really important.”

The next step was to get ready for his senior year of football. Blue Hills, a young team led by first-year quarterback Austin Conley, stood at 3-2 and was set to face rival Bristol-Plymouth that night. The Warriors lost that night, 27-20, the start of a 1-5 stretch to end the season. All Keith could do was watch, and get ready for 2015.

“I tip my hat to [Keith], I’m very proud of that kid,” said Blue Hills head coach Ed Catabia. “He has done a superb job of getting himself ready.”

© Jennifer Reissfelder

© Jennifer Reissfelder

When Keith came in as a freshman, Catabia saw a competitive, talented kid who loved to play football. He had two strong underclassmen campaigns, helped the Warriors to a 16-6 record in his freshman and sophomore years. Then cancer wiped out his junior season.

“I know it’s not an easy situation,” said Catabia, “and [Keith] overcame it, and we were so happy when he got cleared.”

Keith being cleared was a victory before the season even started for his teammates. The group had rallied around their teammate from the start, inspired by his fight. Football season couldn’t come soon enough.

“This is all he had been talking about since he’d been declared cancer-free,” said Jennifer. “He’s gone through a lot to get to this point. It’s a really big deal for him.”

Preseason practice started on August 24. Keith was battling with the incumbent starter Conley, who filled in for him in 2014. Both made a strong case for the starting position.

The old saying in football is when you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. In other words, neither guy shows enough to be the full-time signal-caller. That wasn’t the case, Catabia had a good problem on his hands.

Then the day finally came. September 11, at Blue Hills, on the turf, against Hull. Keith got the start under center.

“There was a lot of nervousness at first,” said Keith. “I hadn’t played in a whole year, so I had missed a lot.”

The rust and nerves Keith claimed to have didn’t show on the scoreboard, as Blue Hills raced out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter. Catabia riding two-headed monster at quarterback, Keith was pulled in favor of Conley in the second quarter, before being re-inserted in the second half. It didn’t matter who was under center, as star running back Noel Francois took over the game with 272 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

The final was 36-23. Blue Hills was 1-0, and the Warriors ran off the artificial turf field along with Keith.

He was back.

Pat O’Rourke is the sports editor for BU News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @patorourke_29.

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