celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

Soccer player battles cancer

By Janelle Stecklein

As Connor Lyons battles a rare cancer, his spirit, determination and optimism remain unscathed.

When the cancer robbed him of part of his senior soccer season, the Tascosa High School student still went to all the games he could and sat on the bench, cheering for his teammates.

"I was happy to be there even though I couldn't play," Lyons said.

When treatments kept him from attending classes, he spent hours after school catching up on his schoolwork so he would be able to graduate.

"I came so far," Lyons said. "I don't want to just give up. I would really like to graduate with my class. My teachers are really supportive and it helps."

His determination has paid off. He'll receive his diploma.

At the end of February, Lyons received the devastating diagnosis that he had a rare form of cancer known as adrenal cortical carcinoma. This cancer affects the adrenal glands, which are required to help the body function properly.

The American Cancer Society estimates that only 300 people a year in the United States are diagnosed with the illness.

The effects of the cancer, muscle weakness and fatigue, forced Lyons to give up one of his greatest loves - soccer - at least until he beats it.

But that didn't stop the all-district player from supporting his teammates.

Shortly after his first round of chemotherapy, Lyons was back on the bench, cheering the teammates who had voted him captain of the team before he was diagnosed, said Tascosa soccer coach Tommy Willis.

"Soccer means so much to Connor," Willis said. "That team means so much to Connor. (He wanted) to let them know he was supporting them. They wanted to do the same for him."

Willis, who has coached Lyons for four years, said Lyons sees cancer as just another challenge thrown in his path that he can and will overcome.

"This is an exceptional young man," he said. "He has impressed me in just his attitude. Being the type of kid that will never give up. I have not seen him have a down day. He just fought through everything that has been placed in front of him."

Lyons said once he gets his diploma his focus is recovery. Any plans he had were put on hold until he finishes about six more months of chemotherapy, which often leaves him ill.

"It's not that bad," he said. "It could be a lot worse. I hear from a lot of people that have it a lot worse. I'm just grateful for what I have."

Lyons attends classes when he feels well enough to do so. When he's too sick, the Amarillo Independent School District allows him to make up the work and provides a teacher to help.

His teacher, Deanna Sullivan, said he is upbeat, determined and continues to plug away. In short, Sullivan said he's inspirational.

"He hasn't given up," she said. "He really feels like this cancer is not going to stop him. He is always so willing to work and he doesn't require much assistance at all."

Lyons said friends, family, members of the Faith Baptist Church and his faith in God has kept him going through the darkest days.

"My church is amazing," he said. "Everyone is more than helpful. A lot of times it gets really hard. Just being there for me and letting me know that they care, it makes a big difference."

Editor's note: Beating the Odds is a series published in the Amarillo Globe-News from May 10-24 telling the stories of students graduating despite challenges they've faced. It's part of Celebrate Education, a program designed to bring awareness to the need of educational attainment in the Texas Panhandle. For previous stories, visit www.celebrateeducation.org

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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