Eastern junior has greater appreciation for life, basketball after battling cancer

“He made it, but it was a tough ride. I said to him, “Son, this is a battle you will not lose.” He is my hero, a story of perseverance. Words can never describe how proud I am that he overcame this.” – Jason Brice Sr. of his son, Jason Jr.

To see Jason Brice on the basketball court is to witness someone who has worked tirelessly to become a better player.

A 6-foot-2 guard, the junior has a great start for Eastern. He has averaged 16.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in the team’s first six games. He equaled his highest point of his career with 20 points in games against Paul VI and Sterling.

Brice’s play has been a bright spot for a team looking to compete for the US Olympic title and make a run into the Group 4 playoffs ahead. But to fully appreciate what he’s accomplished on the pitch, you need to understand his story outside of it.

Less than a month into his first year, Brice was diagnosed with cancer – Embryonic Rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS). He was hit in the groin during a fall competition and would eventually end up at AI duPont Hospital in Delaware, where complications resulted in surgery at 1am on September 27, 2019.

During that operation, doctors found a tumor.

“I didn’t know what to do. The doctor came out and told me he thought it was cancer,” said Jason Brice Sr., Jason’s father. “It was three in the morning. I had to deal with it. We had a conversation and the doctor looked me in the eye and said he had been doing this for 25 years and was never wrong.”

According to the American Cancer Society, “Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of sarcoma made up of cells that normally develop into skeletal (voluntary) muscles. These are muscles that we control to move parts of our bodies.

“Well before birth, cells called rhabdomyoblasts (which will eventually form skeletal muscle) begin to form. These are the cells that can develop into RMS. Because this is a cancer of very early forms of muscle cells, it is much more common in children, although it sometimes occurs in adults.

“ERMS usually affects children in the first 5 years of life, but it can also occur at an older age. ERMS usually occurs in the head and neck area, the bladder, the vagina, or in or around the prostate and testicles.

Just over a month later, on Halloween day, Brice underwent nine-hour surgery at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia to remove the cancer.

Jason Brice is thriving on the basketball court for Eastern this season. The junior striker fought cancer as a freshman. Kevin Minnick | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

“A lot of things went through my head,” Brice said. ‘I don’t know if it will kill me. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I put all my trust in God, all my trust in CHOP’s doctors. I believed that my mom and dad would make the right decision for me.”

Operation proved successful. Brice underwent chemotherapy every Monday at CHOP for six months while he was homeschooled at school.

“It was very traumatic. I was probably one of the oldest kids in that room,” he said of his chemo treatments. “There were a lot of little kids and it broke my heart to see. I’m having a hard time, but it also motivated me. If these little kids could get through it, I sure could. Nothing would stop me.”

Brice always had the support of his family, friends and the basketball program.

“It was tough. From the outside I saw how bad it was. Cancer is not a joke, everyone knows how bad it is,” said teammate Noah Payne. “I supported him through it. While I couldn’t do much to help him get better, I tried to keep his spirits up and make sure I was always there for him.

“He is just grateful, cherishes every moment. He is a great teammate and loves to lift everyone. He laughs, laughs. He is a teammate that everyone wants to be with. He lights up a room.”

In the following year, Brice underwent tests every three months. He now has checkups every six months because the cancer has remained in remission.

“It’s a great story about him going through something dramatic and overcoming it,” said coach Kevin Crawford. “He’s such a big part of our team, but at the same time he’s just another guy on the team. He’s doing a great job as a team-mate.

“I’m just happy for him that he’s able to be here with the team in this current health climate that we’re in. When you hear that C-word, there’s doubt about day-to-day life.”

After his treatments and quarantined due to COVID, Brice did not pick up a basketball until July 2020. Working to get back into shape, he played JV last season, mainly because Crawford wanted to keep the JV and varsity teams separate as much as possible. possibly because of COVID.

Heading into this season, Brice wanted more.

“I just worked hard. I didn’t like being in JV because I worked my ass off in sophomore year,” he said. “My dad and I sat down and had a chat – we’re going to work until we can’t work anymore. We’ve been working since then and I still don’t think I’m where I want to be.”

Crawford said Brice, now a varsity starter, is one of the team’s most improved players.

“He’s really grown into a really good basketball player,” said the coach. “He had a very strong summer; his body was developing, his maturity was developing.

“He is a hardworking young man, comes every day with his helmet. He appreciates his presence after some serious health issues, while at the same time being a regular teammate. He cares more about his teammates than about himself. He is an important part of our program.”

Brice no longer takes things for granted, hoping that his story will motivate others in a similar situation, be they adults or children. He admits that he has been quite lucky, someone who is grateful for each day and the opportunities they present.

“I think back all the time. I took shortcuts in school, in basketball. I took life for granted,” he said. “I try to stay sober and have a positive attitude towards everything I am going through. If I’m mentally or physically tired, I still decide to get up and carry on.

“I don’t take life for granted anymore because life was almost taken from me.”

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Kevin Minnick covers South Jersey boys’ basketball. He can be reached at kminnick@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @kminnicksports

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