EDMOND, Okla. – If you take a close look at Jude Starkey’s soccer team, wearing neon orange, you’ll notice something strange.
They are all wearing jerseys with the number seven.
It’s Jude’s number and the team decided to show this sign of solidarity after this athletic Edmond third grader’s health began to fall apart late last year.
“He didn’t want to walk, he didn’t want to run, he didn’t want to go to soccer. It was pretty hard,” recalls Jude’s dad Steven Starkey.
At first, his doctors thought he had an infection in his hip joint.
They even did surgery to clean it out, but instead of infection doctors eventually realized multiplying cancer cells in his bone marrow was the source of Jude’s pain.
Jude immediately was sent to the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer.
“Bone pain happens with more than half of our leukemia kids when they come in,” says Dr. Abishek Bavle.
Dr. Bavle says chemotherapy treatment quickly fought back those cancer cells, although Jude’s drop in strength was shocking to his parents.
“He could barely move when we got out of the hospital. He couldn’t even kick the ball without falling to the ground,” says Jude’s mom.
But Jude fought back and set small goals for himself.
He kept moving and kept running- small distances at first. He eventually regained enough strength to get back on the soccer field and rejoin his team.
Dr. Bavle says, “It’s a testament to how strong and resilient he’s been that with treatment, now just a few months in he’s back to playing competitive soccer.”
His mother laughs and adds, “He’s been calling himself a potato because he thinks he looks like a giant potato spud.”
Some of Jude’s friends decided to shave their heads too in solidarity, and they always back him on the soccer field.
Steven Starkey adds, “They’ll literally say, ‘I got you Jude,’ and seeing kids that age have that type of maturity and compassion for each other, it’s amazing.”
Jude’s clinic team and home time fighting to “crush it.”
They’re crushing cancer and fear of the unknown.
“He’s pretty mature for a third grader,” says Jude’s mom. “A lot of people tell us that.”
If you’d like to help kids like Jude fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriends.org.
Kids with Courage is sponsored by Friends of Jimmy Everest Center.