LEWISBERRY, Pa. (WHTM) — They call him “Hammer.”
Anderson French is a force for the Red Land boys basketball team. The junior captain and oldest of four boys has shown leadership on the floor, and strength off it.
“The French boys are built a little different,” head coach Mike Mehaffey said.
Anderson’s brother Adley loves hoops just as much as his big brother, only Anderson has his Red Land teammates, and three-year-old Adley has Adley’s Army.
“They have all really bought into the process of trying to make Adley’s experience as positive as possible,” Anderson French said. “And being enlisted in this army really means something to everyone on this team, and they all show it in different ways.”
But why does Adley need an army? The French family first noticed something was wrong in October.
“He would say, mommy, my head hurts,” Adley’s mother Cristy said. “I have a headache.”
“And then sometimes he would throw up, but then be better,” Cristy said. “So that went on for about four or five days.”
A radiologist with Penn State Health, Cristy French wasn’t taking chances. They took Adley in for a MRI.
“When Cristy came out of that room with that sort of stoic, shocked, crushed, all at one time look on her face, I knew we were in trouble,” Tad French, Adley’s father, said.
Adley was diagnosed with ATRT, an aggressive brain tumor found in young children.
“And the prognosis, we were told, was dire,” Tad said. “And it was in that meeting that it really hit me for the first time that we might lose him, that we were likely to lose him.”
Children with ATRT only have a 30 percent chance to live more than two years.
“Let’s not let’s not live on day 100 or 200 or 300, let’s just live today,” Tad said.
Adley is receiving constant care at Penn State Hershey’s Childen’s Hospital, but sports keep his mind off treatment.
“Many people here at the center refer to him as the mayor because he goes around to everybody here, physicians, the people in the dietary department, custodians, everyone is engaged with him to play basketball or baseball or race with him (or dance) — or dance,” Tad said.
Tad enlisted the Red Land basketball team into Adley’s Army at the start of the season and they wear it like a badge of honor as Adley watches every game from his hospital room.
“Here we have Adley’s jersey, it’s a little big for him now, it’s been autographed as you can see by all the guys on the team and he does wear it at very important stages throughout his therapy including MRI days,” Tad said. “Those are the days that tell us is it working or not?”
“If we can make him smile one time a day, that means the world to everybody in this program,” Mehaffey said.
Beyond basketball, Adley’s Army has grown into the entire Red Land community.
“It certainly takes a village to help one on their journey through cancer treatment,” Cristy said.
Adley and his family have a long, difficult road ahead, but their experience rooted in competition has Adley’s Army ready for battle.
“Hoping that we can save Adley’s life is obviously the game winner… but that’s in God’s hands,” Tad said.
“His life is having a great legacy that won’t be measured necessarily by the number of days in his life, but by the quality of them and we really learned a lot of those lessons from sports as well.”