By Gary Lloyd
Clay-Chalkville High School senior Justin Sipka used to be a pitcher.
Sipka doesn’t play baseball anymore, but he’s throwing a shutout.
Sipka, 17, found out Feb. 28 that he is free of osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. It was Sipka’s second bout with the disease. Sipka was sitting in history class at about 11:30 a.m. Feb. 28 when he heard from his mom. She told him he was cancer free.
Sipka said he was in “complete and utter shock,” but he was hesitant.
“I’ve been told this before,” Sipka said.
Pain in Sipka’s left knee began his freshman year. During his sophomore year, the pain got worse, and a “mini chain link fence design” appeared in black and purple on the knee, Sipka said. A full body MRI revealed a softball-size mass on Sipka’s hip, and a surgeon determined it to be a bone cyst.
That diagnosis changed about a week later to osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that Sipka said affects about 450 kids each year. It usually spreads up the leg, but Sipka’s spread downward, which happens to only about 5 percent of those affected, he said.
Sipka’s first chemotherapy treatment was Oct. 31, 2011, and he had a surgery in January 2012 to replace his hip bone and femur. He then completed chemo treatments until August 2012. He was told he was free of cancer, but his six-week scan revealed the cancer was back in the same spot. Sipka again had surgery, that time to replace a joint.
Sipka will soon return to the doctors to do blood work and have an X-ray taken of his chest and leg. Then, he’ll wait and see.
“If I have cancer again I’ll do more treatments,” he said. “If I don’t, then that’s fantastic.”
Sipka said he never thought much of having cancer until one night soon after finding out he’d have to battle it again. He was watching TV, and he glanced at his wall, where a newspaper article about how the community rallied around him during his first battle was pinned. His name, age and the word “cancer” was the trio of words he saw. He “busted out in tears,” he said.
“I think it all hit me,” Sipka said
. “I don’t think it ever dawned on me, honestly.”
Sipka said his family, friends and girlfriend, Allison Jackson, have been there to support him over the past two years. They’re the strong ones, not him, he said.
“If they didn’t support me and kick me in the butt when I was getting down, honestly, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” he said.
Sipka’s hair is starting to grow back. When he turned 16, he couldn’t get his driver’s license or a car because of his recovery from leg surgery. He said people will know if the cancer is 100 percent gone this time.
“I’ll be driving up and down the roads screaming and yelling,” he said.
Sipka plans to study physical therapy at UAB.
“Lord knows I’ve done enough of it,” he said. “I know pretty much everything about it.”
Sipka wants to go to area hospitals and talk to younger kids who are fighting the cancer battle. He plans to tell them that everything will be OK.
“The more faith you have in your family, friends and your doctors, then there’s nothing really that can stop you,” Sipka said. “It’s all about attitude.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.