Earlier this offseason, we got to see former Kentucky forward Nerlens Noel and his friend, a 7-year-old leukemia sufferer named Kelly Melton, swag it out at the Kentucky Derby. Today, we have a similar story, this time from Florida, where rising senior forwards Patric Young and Will Yeguete have formed a deep bond with a 3-year-old kid who sounds about a thousand times more courageous than anyone I know.
The Florida Times-Union's Hays Carlyon has the story. Since he was just 10 months old, when a doctor's initial diagnosis of mumps turned out to be acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Kaedyn Ballew has been in an off-again, on-again battle with cancer. During his first trip to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, as Carlyon writes, a responding oncologist told Ballew's mother, Shelsie Ballew, that her son likely wouldn't survive the weekend. He left the hospital five months later, in August, but returned in December when his mother noticed deep bruises on his legs and back, a sign that the cancer had returned.
Ballew was checked into Shands for another four unimaginable months. That was when he met Yeguete and Young, during one of the Florida players' trips to the children's ward at the hospital:
“The first time Will and I went to visit him, it was one of the best hospital visits I’ve ever had,” Young said. “The kid was going through leukemia for the second time. He just brightened up the room. He made me smile many times. I had great interaction with him. He has such a good imagination. It was a great experience. He’s an awesome kid to be around.”
That imagination was evident early. Kaedyn told Young and Yeguete how he had scared away a monster by flexing his muscles at him. “If he comes back,” Kaedyn said. “I’ll show him my muscles again."
Young and Yeguete have checked in since, following up when it was time for Kaedyn to come home from the hospital and helping the family move their things out of their grim second home. It's a truly great story made complete by a photo of Kaedyn in Yeguete's game-worn shoes, which might weigh more than the little guy's entire frame.
There is good news at the end of the story here, but it's not universally positive. Kaedyn's home from the hospital now, Carlyon writes, but he is still receiving treatment and is still experiencing brutal side effects. Doctors give him a 50 percent chance of full recovery; if he doesn't relapse by March of 2018, he'll be considered cured. In the meantime, the Gators and Kaedyn's mother are hoping he is soon healthy enough to attend a home game:
“He would love it,” Shelsie said. “He says he can’t wait to eat nachos with lots of cheese and watch Patric and Will play. I hope he’ll be able to. That would be really special.”