It was supposed to be another trying day of receiving treatment in the cancer room at St. Jude’s Hospital.
However, this February day would be different for Jaqwis Dancy.
He was asked to wait in the room post-treatment, and he did not know why. Then all of a sudden, the door opened and nurses entered with balloons and candy. They dowsed him with confetti and elation in this celebration.
It was the moment he discovered he had beaten the stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma that he had been diagnosed with four months earlier. Smiling ear to ear, Jaqwis described it as one of the happiest days of his life.
“Right after I first heard I was cancer free, returning to football was one of the first things I thought about,” Jaqwis recalled. “That was one of the reasons why I was so sad (when I was first diagnosed). The game that I loved so much was taken away from me. It was very heartbreaking, but I stayed motivated by thinking about football.
“I kept working out every day, pushing myself. After treatments, I went to the work out room. I went outside and played some basketball and jogged around. I got down to 178 pounds which crushed me the most, knowing that I worked out every day and tried to eat a lot. The chemo drugs were still taking a toll on my body. I just kept the motivation and kept fighting.”
The nurses told him that working out and staying active instead of staying in bed all day was probably why he won the battle versus the C-word.
Something else that was a huge motivator for Jaqwis was the positivity from his support system from all of his family and friends, including his Louisiana Tech family.
“From day one, coach (Skip) Holtz told me I was going to get through this and get back out on the football field and walk across the stage and get my diploma,” Jaqwis said. “That really meant a lot to me. Coming to Ruston, this is why I came, the brotherhood. Everybody is family no matter what. He kept motivating me. It was the plan from the beginning.”
Read about Jaqwis Dancy's return to the football field on page 4 of the gameday program. pic.twitter.com/w9Fw3ZsYnS— LA Tech Football (@LATechFB) September 2, 2017
For the head coach of the Bulldogs, being on the receiving end of the devastating news was all too familiar with his mother going through five bouts with cancer and his wife going through a bout with breast cancer.
“For the experiences I have had, it was great for me to be able to share those with Jaqwis and his mother,” Holtz said. “What I have learned is that when you first hear that word, your body goes into a little bit of shock. The worst thoughts go through your mind in trying to deal with life without a loved one.
“With a 19-year old young man that is fighting, your attitude is critically important. I think one of the keys to fighting cancer is a positive outlook and a positive frame of mind. We put a sticker on our helmet that had the number 20 and said the word ‘compete.’ That is what Jaqwis did. I am really proud of the positive attitude he took.”
As long as Jaqwis did not start feeling sick, he was full-go for training. He ran every day to get his stamina back, using a training mask to make it harder to breath. He stepped back onto the field during spring practice, relishing the feeling of getting hit again.
Now he is arguably stronger than ever.
Days | Jaqwis Dancy will be back on the field wearing No. 23 this season pic.twitter.com/Lk4TIZqV77— LA Tech Football (@LATechFB) August 10, 2017
“My strength has definitely come back, especially with my legs,” Jaqwis said. “My legs are probably stronger than they were before the cancer. I am squatting probably 100 pounds more than I was before. My bench press is almost back. I am about five or 10 pounds short of it. My weight is back. Everything is good.”
Jaqwis admitted that even though battling cancer was such a bad situation, it put him in a better mood. He cherishes everything he does now and doesn’t take anything for granted.
From the day he was diagnosed, his mindset had been on getting back on the field at Joe Aillet Stadium, getting back with his brothers for the Sept. 2 season opener against Northwestern State.
Coach Holtz already knew exactly what he was going to do when he called Jaqwis’ number (now No. 23) to take his first carry.
“I want to find his mom in the crowd,” said Holtz, prior to Louisiana Tech's 2017 opener. “That is going to be an emotional day. Everybody has been pulling so hard for him and has watched all of the hard work that he has put into coming back. I won’t help but think about it. All his mother and I talked about when he was going through it was that we were looking forward to the day he carried the ball in that stadium and later when he gets his diploma.”
In that moment, Jaqwis was no doubt dowsed with elation, this time from thousands of Bulldog fans, just like he was the day he became cancer free.
“It is a very anxious feeling,” said Jaqwis. “It has me nervous, but I am just ready to go.”
Jaqwis' return to football finished with a storybook ending. In the Bulldogs' 52-24 win over Northwestern State, he scored on a four-yard touchdown run in at the end of the third quarter that sparked Louisiana Tech's offense to score 28 unanswered points to close out the victory.
Jaqwis Dancy Cancer— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) September 3, 2017
TAKE THAT! pic.twitter.com/TsWK4YyCEC
"I just want to tell everybody who is fighting cancer, to never give up and keep fighting. Because the light is all brighter at the end of the tunnel," he said after the game. "God is good. Just keep praising Him and just keep living life. Don't let it get you down. Just keep moving."