Until earlier this year, Jadon Neely was pretty much your average teenage boy from Hayden.
He played on the high school football team, hung out with friends and played video games. And much of that part hasn’t changed, even though other parts of his life have changed dramatically.
Neely is battling bone cancer — a battle that has already cost him his right arm.
It all started in May, when he was arm wrestling with another student just before spring break. His arm snapped — the bone had broken cleanly.
But the worst news was yet to come. Instead of being a typical fracture from arm wrestling, the bone had broken because of an abnormal weakness.
Tests at Children’s of Alabama confirmed the family’s fears. Neely was suffering from a bone cancer called osteosarcoma, which eats away at the healthy marrow and then replaces it inside the bone. The bone then becomes susceptible to breaking when subjected to trauma, such as contact in sports. If the break had not occurred during arm wrestling, it could have easily happened in a football game after a tackle.
When his father broke the news, Neely wasn’t sure how to take it. “I thought he was joking at first,” he said, “but he wasn’t.”
Chemotherapy followed, but the cancer in Neely’s arm was growing too fast for the chemo to catch up. The tumor swelled to the size of a grapefruit, and doctors proposed more drastic procedures.
Doctors first thought that they could save the arm by removing the tumor itself, but that procedure would render the arm largely useless — and the tumor could come back later if they didn’t get out all of the cancerous tissue.
So just before school and football season started, Jadon and his parents made a drastic choice — to amputate his right arm below the shoulder.
It was a difficult decision.
“His biggest concern was that he wanted an active life,” said LaWanna Spruell, Neely’s mother.
The arm was later sent to researchers, so that they could study how the tumor had grown and what the cancer had done to his cells, in hopes of finding a cure for osteosarcoma.
“They cut it apart like in an autopsy, and sent parts of it all over the country,” Neely said.
Since then, Neely has undergo more chemo. Two previous courses of chemo haven’t proved to be effective, so doctors are now trying a third line of defense.
“We’re all just taking this one day at a time,” Spruell said.
He’s switched to in-home classwork, but still hangs with his buddies at Hayden High. The Wildcats’ football field has a gold ribbon painted on it, in support of their old teammate.
The costs for all of this treatment haven’t been cheap, especially for fitting Jadon with a possible prosthetic arm a bit later. “Those can get very pricey — around $80,000 to $100,000,” Spruell said.
That’s prompted a series of fundraisers to help the Spruells defray some of the costs. One of the next ones coming up is “Jadon’s Journey,” a car show and motorcycle ride at Hayden High on Oct. 31.
Spruell also maintains a Facebook page called “Pray for Jadon,” which features frequent updates on his condition as well as fundraising information.