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Cancer can't keep Cook down

J.B. Cook, center, exceeded his doctors' expectations in returning toan active lifestyle.

The limp and the look of longing in his eyes when he stares at the soccerfield tell you J.B. Cook's life isn't quite what he'd hoped it would be.

Yet hope remains.

To say the least, the last 15 months were difficult for the 19-year-oldSouth Medford graduate, who helped out as a volunteer assistant for thePanthers' state champion soccer team this season.

Cook was set to attend Gonzaga University, where he had a partial soccerscholarship waiting, in August of 1996. But days before leaving, he learnedhe had a 6-inch malignant tumor in his upper left leg that doctors laterdetermined was Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

I had my bags packed, sitting next to the door, he says.

Instead of going through workouts at Gonzaga, Cook started going throughchemotherapy treatments that were supposed to last 48 weeks. The scholarshipwas withdrawn and Cook's fight with cancer began.

The tumor and a portion of the femur bone it was attached to were removedDec. 16 and replaced with a cadaver's bone and a steel rod.

The chemotherapy continued and Cook started an eight-month stretch ofphysical therapy. His recovery has outpaced doctors' expectations, althoughit's fallen short of his own.

I'm doing better than they expected, but I'm not to the point whereI'm happy, says Cook.

Cook completed the chemotherapy treatment in June -- 2 1/2 months early-- and the cancer is in remission. He enrolled at Oregon State Universityin September to study civil engineering.

Back on track academically, Cook's return to an active lifestyle hasn'tbeen as rapid -- a fact that has tried the vibrant young man's patience.

Told he would spend six months in a wheelchair, Cook discarded it forcrutches within days.

Told to stay on crutches for six months, Cook pitched the sticks aftera month and began walking.

I tossed them and just started walking with a limp, he says.

The physicians told me it would be a year before I could walk withouta limp, three years before I could run and that I'd never play soccer again.

That death sentence to his soccer career -- and to Cook it is nothingless -- is something he refuses to accept.

I want to play soccer more than anything, he says. Havingit taken away three days before I was to start at a Division I school wasreally tough to deal with. That was harder than the cancer.

I haven't been able to run. I can jog with a limp. It ain't fastand it ain't pretty, but I can do it.

I can do it has been a mantra for Cook.

An accomplished skydiver before his surgery, Cook has made three jumpssince.

The doctors told me not to do it, he says. But I justhad to land on one leg when I came in.

He's living life to its fullest, says South Medford soccercoach Wally Hicks, who let Cook help out with the team this year. ``He'sbeen a huge help in firing these guys up.

Since his classes at Oregon State didn't start until the end of September,Cook was a fixture at Panthers' practices and games. Once school began,he drove down for most games and was with the team throughout the playoffrun.

Hicks says Cook was devoted to helping the Panthers prepare for Saturday'sClass 4A final against South Eugene: He spent four hours in the SouthEugene library doing research. He read every newspaper article on them sinceAugust. There's no halfway stuff with J.B.

The title game was almost as big a thrill for Cook as it was for thecurrent players. His own South Medford teams reached the playoffs but neveradvanced beyond the quarterfinals.

We lost to South Eugene in the playoffs after beating them in theseason, Cook said before the title game began, so this is prettyimportant to me. I'd like to see us stomp South Eugene.

Cook got his wish as South Medford rolled to a 5-0 victory over the Axemenon a chilly night at Wilsonville High to claim the first state title inschool history.

I feel wonderful, Cook said after the win. My leg doesn'thurt. I'm not cold. It was a clinic. We took it to them.

As much as he enjoyed seeing the Panthers succeed, Cook isn't ready topursue coaching just yet -- not until he's made a run at fulfilling hischief desire.

That desire brings both sadness and determination to his eyes -- determinationhe expresses in three simple words:

I'd rather play.

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Cancer can't keep Cook down