PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The biggest worry a 17-year-old high school student should have is who they are going to prom with or what type of car they want to ask their parents for.
Loyola Chicago’s Owen McAndrews learned that life sometimes moves from simple to serious in an instant.
McAndrews was a junior at St. Edwards High in Cleveland, a star on the volleyball team and seemed to have his entire life in front of him.
Loyola had offered him a spot on their team, he was invited to try out for a team for the 2011 Under 19 World Championships.
Then one day he discovered a lump on his right testicle. He knew something was wrong and made the difficult decision to tell his parents, something no teenage boy wants to discuss.“I found it on my own,” McAndrews said. “Then I had the very awkward conversation with my parents and thank God I did. I caught it very early and had one surgery right away and another surgery a month later to remove the lymph nodes in my abdomen.”
The second surgery was preventative to make sure the cancer didn’t have a pathway to spread. Because of McAndrews proactive decision it probably saved his life.
“It didn’t spread so that was good,” McAndrews said. “If I would have waited it could have spread to my lungs or somewhere else.”
Still hearing a cancer diagnosis as a teenager was still difficult to hear, no matter how good the prognosis.
“It was shock and then sadness,” McAndrews said. “I had a high school volleyball match that night after I found out and of course I played like crap. On the ride home I think I cried the entire way. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to play volleyball again. That was a big deal because volleyball was so important in my life.”
McAndrews soon learned there were far more important things in life than volleyball.
“A 17-year old kid you think you are invincible and the reality is you are not,” McAndrews said. “It’s taught me a lot. I think now I take a situation and make the most out of it. In a way it was good that it happened because it allowed me to reflect on life. If something comes up in my life, I look at like I had cancer this is not that big of a deal.”
He also learned that his future college was not going to abandon him because of his diagnosis.
“We started out the recruiting process and it hadn’t hit him yet,” Loyola Chicago head coach Shane Davis. “We then found out and immediately told him we were here for him, what ever he needed and take your time. If anything comes up call us, let us know what we can do.”
Davis had dealt with this situation before and decided he wasn’t going to renege on his offer to McAndrews.
“Owen wasn’t on an athletic scholarship but he did have a merit scholarship,” Davis said. “My rule is if we are recruiting you it’s good. Another one of my kids I offered him a scholarship and in his senior year of high school got into a car accident and was in a coma. He came out of it and I honored that scholarship all four years and found a different role for him.”
McAndrews redshirted his first year, had a couple of scares with pains that he thought were cancer related but fortunately he has been in remission since his operations. His freshman year, after taking the year off, he contributed immediately to the team as a middle hitter, appearing in 29 games and ranked second that year on the team in blocks.
But it is what he has done off the court that has impressed his coaches and his teammates.
“He’s a complete inspiration,” Caldwell said. “It’s incredible what he’s done and how he has bounced back and managed to live a completely normal life. It’s made him such a strong person.”
Every November McAndrews leads a Movember campaign on the campus, which he and teammates grow mustaches to raise money and awareness of cancer.
“I have kind of inherited that role,” McAndrews said. “I do a lot of charity work including Movember which raises funds for cancer. In three years we have raised 15.000 and I am really proud of that.”
“He’s an unbelievable individual,” Davis said. “He’s our gem. He’s a captain as a young guy and that says a lot about him.”
McAndrews is learning to accept his role and embrace it.
“If I can shed some light on it that’s great,” McAndrews said. “I am a person that guys can come to and talk to me about testicular cancer and I think that’s really important. It’s just another chapter in my life. I look back on it, learn from it and move on.”