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December 23, 2012

Scioneaux up for the fight

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University of Louisiana at Monroe tight end Harvey Scioneaux is wired to face a challenge head on.

He showed signs of it at St. Charles Catholic as a 2A All-State player in high school, drawing the interest of ULM head coach Todd Berry.

After signing with the Warhawks in 2011, Scioneaux redshirted his freshman year but made his presence known as soon as he hit the field this season.

His first three catches as a college player were for touchdowns, including his first two at Auburn. The week after ULM's 38-24 homecoming win over South Alabama on Oct. 27, the Warhawks were riding high on a five-game win streak, and Scioneaux was right in the middle of the elation.

But Scioneaux also was dealing with some discomfort - a newfound pain in his body.

The initial diagnosis was an infection. Then doctors looked at Scioneaux's family history.

"My dad had testicular cancer and my mom had breast cancer," Scioneaux said. "I thought something had to be going on, and he said, 'You just have an infection and that's what's causing the pain, but because of your dad's history we have to do an ultrasound.'"

Scioneaux's father, Barry, battled testicular cancer while his mother, Claire, was pregnant with Scioneaux.

His father was 28 when he was diagnosed.

Scioneaux received the same diagnosis this past November at age 19.

"I'll be honest with you, I cried more for him that I did for myself," Scioneaux's mother said. "It was very hard. I was not in control. I was in control with my own and knew what I needed to do to keep a positive outlook - let's do this, let's get this over with.

"But it's very difficult knowing what I went through and watching my child go through it."

Claire battled breast cancer in between Scioneaux's junior and senior year of high school.

The ULM tight end said helping his father around the house and taking care of his little brother, Nick, helped mature him.

As difficult as it was, his parents' battles have ended up being blessings in disguise.

For starters, the family history helped the doctors look beyond what they initially dismissed as an infection.

Scioneaux's form of cancer is 90 percent germ cell and 10 percent seminoma - the same as cyclist Lance Armstrong. By the time Armstrong was diagnosed, the cancer was in his lungs and brain. For Scioneaux, it had only spread to his pelvis and abdominal region.

"It makes me wonder, if I didn't have family history," Scioneaux said. "I knew the possibility. I prepared myself for, 'Hey, I have cancer.' My fear became a reality, but I didn't take it so hard. I had prepared myself for the worst so at that stage it was like, 'OK, doc, what do we have to do? Let's attack this and get it out of me.'"

Scioneaux has always been an optimist, reinforced by watching both is parents survive the disease.

"I've heard from his teachers from elementary school on (since the diagnosis)," Claire said. "He's left a statement everywhere. He's a wonderful kid, so I'm just like, 'OK God, what's your plan here?'"

Scioneaux already knows the answer.

"I've never had a thought of it as, 'Why me?' I know God picks his most courageous soldiers for his toughest battles," Scioneaux said. "It's not a 'Why me?' I know God chose me because he knows I can be that ray of hope for people."

Scioneaux had surgery to remove the mass during the week of ULM's regular season finale at Florida International but did not receive the news that the cancer had spread until finals week.

"I think I may have been in denial at first, like 'How can you be so sure?'" Claire said. "It all unfolded so fast."

When Scioneaux's mother could not be in Monroe, she took comfort in knowing her son's teammates and coaches would support him.

"I had peace of mind they were taking care of him and were by his side while he was getting all this devastating news," Claire said. "That was hard, too. I can't hold him or give him a hug, all that had to be done by the phone."

Scioneaux's ULM family took over though.

"I was heartbroken," Berry said. "It's not that we don't have great faith in the good things that can happen for him, but for a young man to have to deal with these kinds of things at this age, sometimes it's unfair and it seems unfair."

Scioneaux never saw it that way.

The only thing unfair in his mind is not getting to play in ULM's first bowl game in school history. The Warhawks face Ohio in the Independence Bowl this Friday.

"He's got a strong faith," Berry said. "I've got a strong faith. I know there's a reason for everything. He's handling it just superbly. He's one of those ones you want to take home and just let live with me."

Scioneaux started his first of three rounds of chemotherapy about two weeks ago at MD Anderson and said he had minor side effects. He receives a treatment every 21 days for five days straight, His next chemo will fall on New Year's Day, which just happens to be Scioneaux's 20th birthday.

On the bright side, his white blood cell counts should be back to normal for the bowl game, but the decision on whether he will play will be left up to his head coach.

"He thinks in some way that he's letting the team down, and I love him for that," Berry said, "So we'll see. It's got to be my decision on whether I feel like he'll be prepared physically or mentally to be able to handle that, and he knows that."

Scioneaux has already prepared himself for the possibility of not playing, but the possibility of not beating cancer has never entered his mind.

The redshirt freshman already is thinking about how he will regain his strength during this upcoming spring practice and return to his Auburn-like ways when the Warhawks open next season at Oklahoma.

"My favorite line right now is 'I'm going to Rocky Balboa this.' Let's hit it in the mouth," Scioneaux said. "I'll tell people I have cancer, and they're like, 'How are you doing so well?' And I'm like, 'Because I can't be down. I've got to keep living my life.'"

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