LANGLOIS — Steven White sat in the Bandon High School gym behind the scorer’s table unaware of what was about to happen.
The Pacific High School senior, only recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, received a standing ovation from the Bandon crowd as the Tigers hosted Gold Beach last week. Not wanting the attention, White hid his face with a hand, tears welling up in his eyes.
Bandon's girls basketball team wears warm-ups honoring Pacific student Steven White before the Tigers' recent game against Gold Beach.
“I don’t really like it,” White said of the attention. “It feels weird and uncomfortable.”
White was diagnosed shortly before Christmas, and in the coming month Bandon was just one of numerous communities to rally around White, overwhelming a family that has been through this before.
Trips to the doctor
Something wasn’t right. Everyone could tell.
A wide receiver on Gold Beach’s football team through a cooperative partnership between Pacific and the Panthers, White had a rolling cough and complained of near-constant chest pains. A trip to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection and he returned to the field with an inhaler and antibiotics.
But things didn’t really improve, and in fact began to worsen. He kept losing weight, so White’s father Steve took him in again. This time the diagnosis was a muscle strain and severely anemic, meaning there weren’t enough cells in his blood to effectively move oxygen around his body.
It worsened from there and, for a third time, White visited the doctor, where he had blood drawn and the resulting tests weren’t heart-breaking but didn’t reveal any further issues.
By this point the basketball season was two weeks old and White was still noticeably weaker then he had been in previous seasons. Pacific traveled to Klamath Falls for a tournament at Hosanna Christian.
There, White could only play in spurts, taking himself out after just a few minutes, a rarity for the tough wing. That signaled to White's father, Steve, that something was seriously amiss.
“I watched him get worse, but I thought I did was I supposed to as a father,” Steve said. “But I guess I should’ve taken him somewhere else.”
It’s not like Steve doesn’t have some experience there.
His father, White’s grandfather, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 1988 and Steve, himself, received his son’s diagnosis in 1999.
So Steve drove his son back up to Bay Area Hospital that Saturday after the tournament and they examined his bloodwork and performed a CAT scan and White was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system where cells from that complicated and difficult-to-understand system grow abnormally and spread to other parts of the body. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the more common form of the cancer.
“It was me, Steven and (White’s younger brother) Sean,” Steve said. “We all started crying.”
From there, White had to go to the Oregon Heath and Sciences University (OHSU) in Portland, but only by ambulance, so his mother, Sarah, drove up from work at the Langlois Market and Steve followed behind, and they were in Oregon’s largest city for a week.
There, White received a biopsy, drilling into both of his hip bones. The results came back as Stage 4, meaning it had metastasized, or moved, to another area of the body. In White’s case, in started in his chest cavity and collapsed his lung, then it attached to three ribs, his shoulder and his scapula, or shoulder blade.
His response was positive.
“I know I can beat it, so I’m not really worried about it,” White said.
Community rises up
After the diagnosis, the outpouring of community support came quickly.
Before Pacific hosted New Hope Christian a couple of weeks ago, the Pirates wore purple T-shirts with White’s name and number 22 on the back. Fans were given a chance to join in, paying $20 each for shirts, and they filled the building.
A few days later at Bandon’s home game against Gold Beach, the Tigers took their turn, choosing not to charge admission and instead offering a donation jar asking for fans to contribute to a fund going to White's family.
The Tigers and Panthers wore those shirts as their warmups in both the boys and girls games, and White was introduced before the latter game and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Not wanting the forthcoming attention, White hid his face in his hands emotionally while the gym recognized him.
Bandon athletic director Brandon Standridge said it was an easy decision for the school to chip in.
“Obviously, we’ve had our own family issues at Bandon, so every little bit helps,” Standridge said. “Just thankful we could help out any way possible. Kevin (Swift) at Gold Beach is gonna do the same thing when he heads down there in a couple weeks. We surround Port Orford and the Pacific community and help out where we can.”
While Pacific and Gold Beach have a cooperative agreement in football, Bandon and Pacific have long had a similar partnership for soccer.
"We have a ton of kids who are friends with Steven and we’re so close as communities, close with the schools," Standridge said. "We share resources, we share ideas and stuff."
That night in Bandon, donations totaled $1,461.39, but to Standridge, the highlight of the night was that White was able to attend.
"It worked out good. (Pacific) didn’t have a home game so Steven was able to come," he said. "It was awesome to recognize and see his family and have him be here and have him be in good spirits, which was really good."
In addition, there’s a GoFundMe account in White’s honor that had raised $9,410 of a $10,000 goal as of Monday.
“It’s that small community, small-town vibe,” Standridge said.
Bandon wasn’t the only school to do something.
Yoncalla raised more than $800 when Pacific visited there this past weekend and Bandon student Allie Hennick, a close friend of White, had rubber bracelets made that she sold for $2 each. Tori Hall, a Pacific parent, spearheaded the fundraising, having the shirts printed and coordinating as much as she could.
Lots of people pitched in, but ideas are nothing without action.
“Honestly, I could not have done with without the support from my school,” Hennick said.
The Whites were “overwhelmed” by the support.
Like their son, they don’t look for attention and generally feel uncomfortable in the spotlight. But the way the small towns rallied around their son brought them a feeling that seemed far away: hope.
“It’s overwhelming,” Steve said. “I don’t know the word for it. It makes us feel a little funny. But the community definitely came out. They’ve been helping out with a lot of stuff. They helped us out when we were up in Portland feeding the animals. Whatever the kids need, they stay with a couple locals here. The market, Jake and Astana. Tori Hall. They really came out.”
Winning the battle
Historically, Stage 4 cancer would be considered too late in the process to make any progress toward recovery.
But that time isn’t now. The Whites have endured three diagnoses of Lymphoma now — both kinds — and so far they are perfect in winning the battle against their own bodies.
It creates optimism around a situation that is inherently gloomy.
“It seems like the family, the genetics seem to take chemo good,” Steve said. “Some people can’t take chemo and, I guess, the cancer progresses. They do other things, but they can’t do chemo. Because I guess they said they can’t accept it.”
Through the process, White has been cheerful, always smiling, always making people smile. He asks for two fried eggs and sausage every morning, because that’s what tastes good through the chemo therapy.
He sits in the student section at Pacific home games and laughs with his friends, and sat with a contingent of Pacific supports as they watched former teammate John Morrill-Keeler return to the South Coast with Umpqua Community College recently, and even felt good enough to play in Pacific’s recent game against North Douglas.
That was rewarding, Pacific coach Ben Stallard said.
"He is definitely one of the toughest kids I ever coached," Stallard said. "I was heartbroken with the diagnosis. He has since come to practice and it was amazing how good the practice was with him being there.
"And to see him run out during the starting lineup was certainly emotional. He has been in the best spirits, always has a huge grin on his face, and not once have we seen him feel sorry for himself."
White's attitude has been great, his father said.
“He wakes up smiling. The kid’s smiling all the time,” Steve said with a laugh. “I don’t know how. It makes us feel better about it I mean, as good as we’re gonna feel about it. And he’s always making everybody else smile.”