When Joshua Beer picked up a tennis racket as a first-grader, he never imagined how his journey with the sport would grow. Tennis has become more than just an extracurricular for this 17-year-old student at St. Benedict High School. It’s been a passion and inspiration for him, which carried him through the darkest moments of his life.

Around the fifth and sixth grade, it was obvious Joshua had a talent. Tournament after tournament, he was propelled to a national ranking. Eyes were on him as someone to watch for in high school and beyond.

Just a year later as a seventh-grader, he started feeling a sharp pain in his chest. Assuming it was likely a torn muscle, he went to Campbell’s Clinic for an X-ray. However, a last-minute blood sample led doctors to discover a cancerous mass, part malignant and part benign, in his chest. Joshua was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer most commonly found in the limbs and legs.

Becoming a St. Jude patient meant Joshua had to put his tennis passion on hold. His treatment lasted six months, and he spent time doing school work from home or the hospital. St. Jude was helpful with keeping him on track academically and planning around his different rounds of chemotherapy. Towards the end, his most intense two weeks of treatment brought hair loss and meant constantly monitoring his liver and white blood cell count. Once this was complete, the process finished quickly, and his chemo port was removed so he could play tennis again.

Understandably, cancer had affected Joshua’s tennis game. However, the treatments surfaced an underlying heart problem. The rough side of his heart started to lean more towards the opposing thinner side, making it harder to pump blood. Doctors have found that heart health and chemotherapy treatments are closely related, and Joshua is a perfect example of this. St. Jude makes sure patients get regular heart checks. Joshua now works with a personal trainer to avoid undoing any of the treatment or straining a muscle.

On the other side of his disease, Tennis was no longer the focal point of Joshua’s life. It was harder to play, and he had watched his friends continue to get better during a time when he could not. Although catching up was a process, he wasn’t deterred from playing because his love for the sport transcends the need to win. It’s simply fun to play.

“Cancer kills, so you think more about the smaller aspects of life,” Joshua says. Tennis was no longer his defining characteristic. He started spending time exploring other subjects. He discovered a love for anatomy, U.S. history, and playing video games on the weekend. His experience with cancer got him interested in epidemiology and pathology, and he wants to study how diseases affect people and the community around them, especially in developing countries. 

Reflecting back, Joshua realizes, “When I was younger and would see those St. Jude commercials, I never thought I would end up being one of those kids.” Although we have little control over what life will throw at us, it helps to be prepared to hit the ball right back, get through the day, and find some enjoyment in the process.

By Chloe Webster