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Power of the Mind

While fighting off two debilitating illnesses, Valencia's David Stroud has shown what 100 percent is

Posted: January 2, 2009 5:24 p.m.
Updated: January 2, 2009 5:35 p.m.

Valencia basketball players surround teammate David Stroud (center) at the Vikings gymnasium. Stroud, a senior who has battled two illnesses, plans to attend Vikings home games for the remainder of the season.

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“Today I know what real strength is…and it has little to do with my muscles.  Rather, it is all about my mental strength.  Your body can be weak and broken down while your mind is still sharp in what you think, feel, and believe.” – David Stroud in his college application essay

One of the first things out of David Stroud’s mouth on a December Monday night is a request to steal another inch.

At 6-foot-4-inches, he towers over his sister Rachel, his mother Jacqui and his father Dan.

David says he’s closer to 6-feet-5-inches, though.

The 17 year old  must take a lot of pride in that body of his.

And he must be pretty forgiving of a body that has nearly given up on him.

David says he looks pretty good, but that’s to people who can’t see under his green T-shirt and black track pants.

The Valencia High student, a varsity basketball player, David hasn’t been to class this 2008-09 school year.

He hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 23.

With a thin oxygen tube snaking from the ground and lassoing his face, he sits in a recliner with a glass of juice and medicine to his left.

The occasional cough shakes his body, threatening to break it with every wave.

But there’s something that David has learned and others around him are learning.

The mind can be unbreakable.

On April 23, David was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Less than four months later, while receiving treatment for the cancer, he went into septic shock – which has become a more grueling battle.

During November and December of 2007 (his junior season on the Valencia basketball team), David began to feel fatigued. He’d sweat at night. Colds wouldn’t go away.

In March, he noticed a lump on his neck.

The battle plan was to go through six cycles of chemotherapy then radiation treatment.

Things were progressing.

But halfway through the fifth three-week cycle, David woke up with severe stomach pain on Aug. 7.

He was rushed to Children’sHospital Los Angeles.

Within four hours, David went into septic shock and was taken to intensive care.

For 90 days, David fought for his life in intensive care.

During that time, he had two major surgeries and was in an induced coma.

 “The worst time was probably in September,” Stroud says. “I was in the hospital not knowing if I would get out. No one could tell me when I was going home. If I was going home. I was so frustrated.”

Dan describes the whole process of what his son went through as “shocking.”

Yet David’s mind kept him going.

He thought about his future.

College application deadlines neared when he was in the hospital.

He was asked to write about a challenging time in his life.

David thought about August, when 18 machines were hooked up to his body.

He thought about the times when the medicine being pumped inside him hurt so bad he could barely handle it.

“The biggest thing I learned was what hard work is,” David says. “When the body’s so broken, the mind can go so far beyond any of that.”

The essay, David says, was about the realization of what giving 100 percent really is.

Rachel helped him with the essay. She told her brother she wouldn’t leave him.

Then David went into an induced coma to help with his treatment.

During this time, Rachel was about to begin her first semester at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
“I had a real hard time deciding whether or not to go to school,” says David’s 20-year-old sister. “I said, ‘I’m not leaving until I talk to (David) about it.’”

Rachel says she made itinerary changes three times and even missed the first week and a half of classes.
But David encouraged her to go.

Today, Rachel is in Valencia.

She completed her first semester at Purdue and did, she says, surprisingly well.

“It was a relief to put my mind to school,” she says. “It was a selfish relief.”

But it was people like Rachel who never gave up that David says also made a difference.

How big?

“So much. You can’t put a price on it,” David says.

“There were times where I just wanted to give up. I wanted to quit. But my parents and friends, the text messages, they all helped,” David says.

Also helping has been David’s longtime basketball coach and family friend, Steve Sansone.

From the beginning of David’s battle, Sansone has given e-mail updates on the boy’s condition.

People David never met, people who didn’t even know the Stroud family flooded them with well-wishes.

Sansone says people in four different counties reached out.

David needed the help as things were so bleak early on.

“Early on, honestly the news was as dark as it could have been,” Sansone says. “He was literally hanging by a thread. It was moment by moment. (Doctors) had to pump 19 liters of fluid just to have him maintain a blood pressure.”

During the summer, Valencia co-head coach Greg Hayes brought the Valencia High basketball team into his classroom and talked to his players about David and the concept of team.

He spoke about how David has a team – family, doctors and nurses – who were working for one common goal.

He paralleled that to the Vikings, then pulled out some practice jerseys.

On the front read “VKNGS”, the I’s removed intentionally to play off the “there’s no I in team” credo.

On the back was the name Stroud and David’s No. 25.

The VKNGS still wear the jerseys.

David’s a popular kid.

Others have reached out.

There was an encouraging autograph from Magic Johnson on one of the Stroud jerseys.

A call from Lance Armstrong.

Cal and former Valencia High running back Shane Vereen wore Stroud’s No. 25 on his eye black during the Emerald Bowl on Saturday.

Vereen played for the Valencia varsity basketball team for two years.

This would have been Stroud’s second full-season on the varsity.

A smooth jump shot, the ability to play above the rim and his senior status made him a potential key player on the court for the Vikings 2008-09 team.

Valencia co-head coach Rocket Collins knew this after the last game of the 2007-08 season.

After a long ride back from San Bernardino on Feb. 23, the Vikings’ bus finally settled into the parking lot at Valencia High School.

Valencia’s run through the CIF-Southern Section Division II-AA playoffs had just ended in the quarterfinals in a 71-67 loss to Arroyo Valley.

One by one, the players stepped out of the bus.

David made his way to his car before being stopped by Collins.

Collins told Stroud, “David, this is your team next year.”

“I could have been great,” David says now. “That was a team I was going to lead.”

But David battled his way back from cancer to participate in practices from time to time this summer.

Collins says he was cautious, always asking David if it was OK.

David reassured him it was.

Every time he’d show up, it was a surprise.

Collins recalls Hart High’s summer tournament as the biggest surprise.

“I get this tap on the shoulder and he says, ‘I’m warming up coach,’” Collins recalls. “He got in the warm-up line and did layups. He participated almost all summer, maybe practicing two days a week. At the time I was thinking he might be able to play in January or February. … If he came back it would have been a big, big plus.”

David has come back.

He visits the basketball team.

He came to a December rally at Valencia High.

And there are preliminary plans for David to attend classes at Valencia on Dec. 12.

But he hasn’t come all the way back.

There has been a lot of damage inflicted on that body of his.

His left foot suffered nerve damage from his illness.

His lung capacity is far less than what it used to be.

But every day is a victory for him.

Every feat is a victory.

He craved Mexican food from Baja Fresh – victory.

He managed to put a snowboard boot over his left foot – victory.

And he was able to walk around the short cul de sac that is the street he lives on - victory.

“I never want to lose,” he says. “I guess in basketball, you train to become better. In the hospital, I was training for my life. Now I’m training for a fuller life.”

David has made so many people realize what they took for granted.

People close to him measure success and failure differently.

You could say, the power of his mind has and will continue to change other people’s minds.

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