Alex Loftin pitched for Stow-Munroe Falls High School, the University of Akron and summers during college with the Edenton (N.C)Steamers and the Battle Creek (Mich.) Bombers.
The right-hander also pitched professionally last season with the Lake Erie Crushers, based in Avon, and was getting ready for another season, poised to sign a contract Feb. 22.
But those plans and his dream of someday pitching in the majors have been sidelined, courtesy of one of life’s curveballs, the cruelest of them all.
“I have been playing through unbearable pain since 2007 and still competing at a high level,” Alex said in a phone interview last week.
Quite frankly, he doesn’t know how, except “mind over matter.”
The 23-year-old succeeded to some extent in dealing with the burgeoning pain in his right leg over the years, but he didn’t ignore it. He went from doctor to doctor, undergoing various procedures including biopsies, trying to find the root of the pain and a path to end it.
“Every single doctor said ‘It’s not cancerous!’ ” Alex said. “I believed the doctors. All of them. So, I wasn’t in a big hurry to go about seeking a doctor to tell me that it was.”
In the meantime, he did all that he could to fight through the pain and try to build up his strength. “I was always in the gym and outworking everybody there,” he said.
While his worst fears were assuaged that it was nonmalignant, doctors seemed unable to tell him what it was and why they couldn’t do anything to solve it.
In January, however, those fears were realized. Alex got a call from out of the blue from one of those doctors, asking how he was doing and telling him the 2010 biopsy “was suspicious for cancer.”
Why did it take that long? Alex wants to know, but doesn’t have the luxury of time to deal with the “why?” of it right now.
He was diagnosed with Stage IIIB high-grade, soft-cell sarcoma in the right leg. Over the next few weeks, Alex examined his options, seeking opinions from three different doctors.
“All of them told me I was going to lose my leg,” he said, dancing around the word “amputation.”
“I was freaking out!”
But fate intervened and Alex was referred to yet another doctor, this one in Pittsburgh. Although he was expecting more of the same bad news, “what I heard was just the opposite: that the doctor would do everything he could to save my leg,” Alex said.
On Tuesday, Alex will undergo surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to remove the sarcoma. That will be followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
Of course, having been offered a contract to play pro ball, he was taking it hard. It helped talking to and spending time with his former coaches, especially at the University of Akron, “who have been very supportive,” he insisted.
And they’re all cheering for him.
Former Stow-Munroe Falls High School football coach Marty Tinkler has known Alex since he was in junior high school: “So, that’s been over 10 years. My first association with him was in athletics. Now he’s my friend … When I think about the events that have transpired in his life, you feel discouraged. But Alex is so positive and uplifting that you get a sense that this hasn’t gotten him down consistently. So, I think he’s taken the same attitude he’s had in football and baseball and applied it to this fight. So, we’re expecting a positive outcome.”
“He’s always been a very hard worker with unbelievably good character. Because of his work ethic he became a starting pitcher as a freshman,” said Brian Banfield, former varsity baseball coach at Stow-Munroe Falls and now athletic director at Poland Seminary High School, who has known Alex since 2005. “He always wanted the ball in big games. He’s always led by example on the field and in the weight room and he always did whatever was asked of him. … I was so proud of him when he earned an athletic scholarship at Akron and as a freshman was starting pitcher. Remarkable …
“This is a tough path he’s on. He didn’t choose it. But no doubt he’ll beat it because that’s the type of kid he is. This won’t keep him down. He’ll apply that same work ethic here, too.”
University of Akron baseball coach Rick Rembielak is new to Alex’s circle but just as supportive: “Last year was my first year at Akron. So, I had a chance to coach Alex for one year. I have a pretty good feeling for the kind of person he is. He’s such a great kid … This has blindsided me because I didn’t know the history [of the pain he’s endured] at all. … We’re rooting for him. … I don’t have any firsthand experience or know anyone who has gone through what he’s going through. So, I just say to him that it’s like a game. You go out and compete and battle your way through it.”
As he faces the biggest challenge of his life, Alex prays for the best possible outcome.
Even though he is still on his parents’ health insurance plan, Alex — who will be incapable of working in the foreseeable future — will still face daunting bills, medical and otherwise, through his lengthy treatment.
To that end, family and friends are organizing fundraisers to help. Those efforts are still in their infancy, so any guidance or suggestions would be much appreciated. Please call Alex’s cousin Liz Palmatier at 330-801-9827.
The forward-thinking Alex — at the urging of his doctor, whose mission is to treat the whole person — has already started the rather expensive process of preserving his sperm to ensure his chances of becoming a father someday.
Chemotherapy and radiation, even at low doses, can have a negative effect on sperm production in men and egg production in women. It’s a conversation that more doctors may want to have with cancer patients. Alex is being proactive in that regard.
While fundraisers to help Alex are in the works, an Alex M. Loftin account has been set up at Chase bank (any branch).
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.