Junior Ethan Weidert sits in the weight room, his tattoo, which covers a port scar, exposed. Weidert was tattooed over the summer and selected a violet ribbon to represent Hodgkin lymphoma. Photo by Aubrey Bolinger

Photo by: Aubrey Bolinger

Thriving

Weidert remains driven despite cancer roadblock in middle school

October 29, 2018

Every morning at 5:00, junior Ethan Weidert climbs out of his bed, makes his pre-workout shake and heads out the door to work out.

Ethan starts as an inside linebacker on the varsity football team. He powerlifts. He throws discus and javelin on the track team.

Just last year, as a sophomore, he held up a silver medal at the state powerlifting tournament, finishing as state runner up in the 173-pound weight class.

But Ethan’s journey to athletic success wasn’t clear of roadblocks.                                  

He hit his first one in January of 2016 in eighth grade, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma — a cancer of the immune system.

Though he was only 14 years old, Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common cancer in teenagers 15-19 years of age, according to the American Cancer Society.

But the diagnosis didn’t start off that way. With a cough and a lump on his neck, Ethan’s family physician diagnosed him with mononucleosis.

After no improvement, Ethan returned and his physician ordered a CAT scan. He was immediately referred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

After a biopsy, the Weiderts were sent home for the weekend without answers.

They returned Tuesday and Ethan was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I was numb,” Ethan said. “I guess the reality hadn’t really hit me. I remember pretty vividly when I was in the doctor’s office. When they first told me, both of my parents were there and they started breaking down and crying. I was just kind of looking around, waiting for something to be done.”

Having already missed a week of school and sports practices, Ethan was ready to get back to his daily routine.

“At no point was I thinking, ‘Oh my god. I might die,’” Ethan said. “It was just kind of like, ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and let’s get it over with.’”

Ethan’s treatment consisted of four cycles of chemotherapy.                

At the beginning of his third cycle of chemo, Ethan hit another roadblock. Ethan’s IV was administered incorrectly when a nurse missed his vein. The saline fluid, meant to keep him hydrated, seeped into his muscles.

For the first time, Ethan was forced to stay overnight at Children’s Mercy, while he recovered.

“There’s always that one kid that you look at and it’s the situation where you’re like, ‘I’m glad that’s not me,’” Ethan said. “I was that kid.”

But chemo didn’t stop Ethan from doing what he loved — staying active, spending time with friends and attending sports events.

“I’ve always had the attitude of ‘I can change what I can change, if not, I’m not going to worry about it too much,’” Ethan said. “Worrying about it isn’t going to change anything.”

Head football coach Tom Nickelson invited Ethan to attend weights training with the other incoming freshmen.

During chemo, Nickelson modified a workout based on Ethan’s condition. At one point, while his freshmen teammates lifted weights, Nickelson set a goal for Ethan of 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups.

“At the time, it was devastating knowing I couldn’t do any of it with my teammates,” Ethan said.

There’s always that one kid that you look at and it’s the situation where you’re like, ‘I’m glad that’s not me.’ I was that kid.””

— Ethan Weidert

After his fourth round of chemo, Ethan was in remission, but he was not in the clear.

He still has a chance of the cancer returning. For the next three years, Ethan has yearly checkups.

“Every time he gets sick or I hear him coughing, it’s [cancer] in the back of my head,” Lynn Weidert, Ethan’s mother, said. “I’d like to say, ‘Yeah, he’s cured: it’s gone.’ But it’s still in the back of our heads.”

After a year in remission, Ethan encountered yet another roadblock.

Over Labor Day weekend, he discovered another lump. Due to a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, Ethan missed school and was unable to play in the freshmen football game that night.

The only difference was the outcome of the visit — Ethan remained in remission.

“There are some people who can play the victim,” Lynn said. “He could be that kid that lays around and does nothing but video games, but he doesn’t. Seeing him play football and enjoy his life inspires me in so many ways, and that’s how I get through to the next visit.”

Though a fear of cancer lingers, the experience has made them a stronger family.

“We can rely on each other for emotional support,”
Heath Weidert, Ethan’s father, said. “I’m not sure we knew we had that before and we know we have that now.”

Ethan’s success, however, didn’t end his sophomore year.

“He had a goal to kick cancer’s ass and he did,” Nickelson said. “He had a goal to start defense at linebacker and he did. He’s worked his tail off the last 18 months. He’s pound-for-pound one of our strongest kids on the team. Whatever he sets his mind to, that’s what he does.

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