Nearly a year after he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, a Florida teen celebrated his new cancer-free status at an NFL game where he and other young patients were honored.
Caleb Farrell, 16, from St. Augustine, Florida, told TODAY.com that "it feels really good" to be healthy, and said he had a great time at the game on Sunday — especially since his team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, beat the Miami Dolphins.
He played for St. Augustine High School’s football team before he got the life-changing diagnosis last fall, his mom said. It all started with a post-game party.
"It was the next to last game, and we had a party here at the house," Patricia Farrell told TODAY.com of the moment in October when she realized something was wrong with her son.
"Caleb came in and he took me aside and said, 'Mom, I have a severe headache. I think I got hit at the game.' So he went to bed and, three days later, he's still in bed."
Caleb's parents took him to the doctor, where he was initially diagnosed with strep throat and sent home. But when his symptoms worsened — "He threw up Thursday night through the following Saturday,” Patricia said — they went back to the hospital.
This time they learned the truth. Caleb was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma.
"He had a massive tumor that was 5.7 centimeters, that was pressing against his brain and cutting off circulation to his spine," Mrs. Farrell said. "He was 15 years old."
During a 14-hour surgery, doctors removed most of the tumor, and Farrell underwent months of proton therapy, a type of radiation treatment.
It was a difficult time for Caleb’s mom and dad, who both work.
"We couldn't afford to lose our jobs," Patricia said. "And the hospital warned us: Do not lose your health insurance."
As the family struggled to pay bills while also staying by Caleb's side at the hospital, they reached out to The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, a cancer foundation founded by former Jaguars and current New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin.
The group stepped in to pay the family's car and mortgage payment — an "astronomical relief," Mrs. Farrell said.
In late February, they got good news: the cancer was gone.
"He'll never play football again, which is a disappointment, but the most important blessing is that he's still here with us," Patricia said. "We're grateful for that."
In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation sent about 35 childhood cancer patients and their families, including the Farrells, to the Jaguars-Dolphins game.
They celebrated with a tailgate party and were honored on the field during the pregame ceremonies.