In August, Noah Geary expected to be on the football field kicking and getting ready for his senior year in high school.
He was kicking cancer instead.
The Game Changer
The Geibel Catholic Jr/Sr High School tri-athlete had just joined the Southmoreland High School varsity football team in a partnership made between the two schools. A groin injury he sustained playing basketball one month earlier flared with pain just before the start of football camp.
“The doctor thought the swelling I was having was from the injury and told me to stop playing sports for one week. The pain got worse and my mom took me to the emergency room,” Noah said.
Life changed fast for Noah as he was sent from the Excela Frick ER to Children’s Hospital, by ambulance, where it was discovered he had testicular cancer.
Then came the news that he would need to undergo emergency surgery, called a radical inguinal orchiectomy. Surgery was followed by four weeks of recovery, then five weeks of chemotherapy treatments.
He endured the nausea, fatigue, feeling of hot and cold and other symptoms that can come with treatment without complaint and with the same “no quit” attitude he brought to every game.
“I took it one day at a time. My goal was to get back to school,” he said.
A Cheering Section
Noah wasn’t well enough to play football, but he dressed in uniform and supported the team from the sidelines on the field every chance he could.
While he was rooting for his team, Noah’s own cheering section was growing.
Students, faculty and staff from Geibel Catholic, Southmoreland, Connellsville Area high schools and Conn-Area Catholic School made sure Noah knew he wasn’t alone.
Their acts of kindness played a big role in keeping Noah strong.
“Before I started my chemo, my friend Andrew gave me video games and my friend Jacob gave me an Xbox gift card to help keep me busy. There were also friends who texted me with well-wishes,” he said.
A basketball brought to Noah by Geibel Catholic team member, Robert Guo, was signed by all of his teammates. And his baseball coach, Shawn Fuller, emceed “A Night Out For Noah”, a benefit hosted by family and friends.
Geibel Catholic National Honor Society (NHS) members were thinking of him too. Club president, Maggie Ewing, and vice president, Abbey Sitko, brought a blanket to him at the hospital. They also delivered dinners to the Geary home, Abbey said, “to allow not only Noah to focus on healing, but the whole family.”
She added, “Since the seventh grade, Noah and I have not only been classmates but also friends. When I heard that he was diagnosed with cancer, I was really worried, but I knew God had a plan for him.
I went to visit him after his first chemo treatment and after the visit, I realized just how strong my friend was and is to this day.”
Hundreds of Kids in the Huddle
He was surrounded by support from the Connellsville Area School District, where Noah attended through sixth grade.
The Mustache Club, from elementary though high school, raised funds for his family with the sale of paper mustaches and tee shirts, imprinted with #NoahStrong and the symbol for childhood cancer.
“We sold them at all the lunches. The response was overwhelming,” said senior, Michael Taylor. He added, “My dad has Huntington’s chorea disease and I know what he goes through. If I can help another student who is having a tough time, I have to do something.”
Teacher, Bobby Renzi, led the Mustache Club effort at the high school. He and other teachers grew real mustaches to support the cause.
Tommy Pisula, a Southmoreland High School senior and football player, had only just met Noah before the season started, but a bond was made.
“We thought he got through surgery; he’ll be back. But there was so much more for Noah to deal with after that. I felt so bad because his family was also affected by the Connellsville flood a few weeks before.
Tommy approached his teacher, Mrs. Jenna Hixson, who had initiated the Cupcakes for Connellsville fundraiser to benefit flood victims. He asked her if they could do the same for his teammate. She agreed and “Cupcakes for Noah”, a fundraiser to benefit the Geary family through this challenging time, was held during Homecoming festivities.
“I was playing in the game so I couldn’t see what was happening at the sale, “he said. His mom, Leslie, was at the table and remarked, “So many people came by, and kept coming in the pouring rain, to buy cupcakes, breads, and cookies that had all been donated.”
Although Noah was unable to attend the Homecoming game, he did accomplish his goal to participate in Senior Night at the Southmoreland stadium with his mom, Mindy and dad, Rich, by his side. “It meant a lot to me. I was really happy,” he said.
Tommy commented, “At the team banquet, Coach Mark Adams introduced the players and spoke about each one of us. When it was Noah’s turn, he said, “Noah is the champion for beating cancer.” Those words were met by a standing ovation.
Yes, Noah is strong. And thankful.
He’s lifted by the kindness he’s received from his football, basketball, and baseball teammates, classmates, friends, kids he’s never met, and the community.
“I appreciate that so many people cared. I’m also grateful for my family and that I had my dad at home with me until he had to go back to work. I never felt alone.”
Even the injury he sustained playing basketball is something he’s thankful for as it led to an early diagnosis of the cancer.
Noah counts his blessings starting with 17. It represents his age, the number on his basketball jersey, and the year he graduates. He also plans to attend a local college in 2017.
“I’m grateful to wake up in the morning and to be feeling good.
Often kids say, ‘Oh, I have to wake up early and go to school’. Be grateful you can wake up and go to school – especially a school like Geibel Catholic.
It’s a family here. It’s small and everyone knows each other,” he said.
Goals to Reach
During these past few months, he said, “I prayed more. And I didn’t ask God ‘why’. I focus on what I have and not what I don’t. I have a healthy life.”
In a couple weeks, he returns to the doctor. For now, Noah has plans to attend Geibel Catholic’s Christmas Dance – that is if his intended date says, “yes”.
He carries an attitude of gratitude for the trials and blessings in his life that have made him stronger.
“No matter what the challenge is”, he said, “never give up.”