Eventful final semester for YHS senior
One could say it has been an interesting final semester of high school for Yuma senior Paul Brophy.
Go to the regional science fair and qualify for the Colorado Science and Engineering Fair?
Play one of the lead roles in the Yuma Drama Club’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” as the Cowardly Lion?
Maintain your high grade point average while on your way to graduating with honors?
Fulfill your promise as the staff ace on the YHS baseball team, helping lead the way to the program’s first-ever league championship?
…Oh yeah, and how about battling testicular cancer, and beating it into remission?
Check, check, and check.
“I just took it one day at time,” Brophy said. “I knew what I had to do the next day and prepared for that. There’s not a whole lot else you can do, I guess.”
Everything seemed great for the 6-foot-4 senior.
He was student council president, played on the boys golf team, and signed his national letter of intent in November to go to school and play baseball at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He also was the “Indian” mascot during the athletic contests.
However, he began to notice his “right nut” getting big and hurting. He said it would hurt randomly, but he would get up the next morning with no pain, and it would stay away for several days, so he would forget about it.
Finally it began hurting real bad during a workout. It was the final straw.
“I thought ‘the heck with this, I’m going to get this checked,’” Brophy said.
He went to the doctor, who ordered an ultrasound, and came back with the news — Paul had cancer.
“I cried,” he said. “I think everybody cried.”
This was in late January, less than one month before the official start of baseball practice. Brophy is a well-rounded individual, no doubt, but his big thing is baseball, especially as a pitcher. Besides playing with Yuma teams, he also has played hundreds of games with the club team Premier West since he was 13.
“Probably my biggest thing (after getting the news) was if I could play baseball,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss the season. I didn’t know if I could help the team out.”
He had to help himself first.
Soon after diagnosis, he had surgery to have his right testicle removed, then have a port installed under his right pectoral for the chemotherapy treatments. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, so the treatment had to be aggressive and started quickly.
Brophy had three rounds of chemotherapy, each lasting three weeks. He would go to Rocky Mountain Oncologist for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital. On the first week of each round he would receive three drugs and be in the hospital for five days beginning on a Friday. He then would go back the next two Fridays to be given one drug.
Then the whole process would start over again.
“For those five days I had all sorts of needles stuck in my chest,” he said.
Colorado Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis had successfully battled testicular cancer to come back and pitch for the Rockies. YHS activities director Michael Dischner, an avid Rockies fan, reached out to Bettis and got him in touch with Brophy.
They texted back and forth a little, and talked once on the phone.
“He told me he felt pretty good,” Brophy said. “It was nice hearing it from another pitching guy.”
He started losing his hair, so he shaved himself bald. He wore a mask when in public in case his immune system was weakened. He remained active in all his ventures as much as possible.
He was on the hill for the baseball team’s season opener at Caliche at March 11, striking out eight, walking two and allowing two hits in a 20-0 win.
“My oncologist was not happy with me,” Brophy said of playing so soon, “but we asked our surgeon and she said she put it in there so good it wasn’t going to move at all.”
Paul continued to play, only missing the Merino games on March 26 as he was back in Denver for a round of chemotherapy. He said he was disappointed he had to miss, but considering what he was going through, missing one game date seemed reasonable.
There have been some rough moments while pitching, but overall it has been as great of a season from Brophy as most expected heading into his senior season. He has reset his own YHS baseball program record for strikeouts in a season with 108, breaking his old record of 105 set last year, and he has at least two starts left this season. He has walked only 14 in 49 innings, with a 2.00 earned run average and a 7-2 record entering the postseason.
Brophy said playing baseball, and doing everything else, while battling cancer, hit him once real hard, a 9-3 win over Wiggins on April 6.
He said he was hitting 76 miles per hour on his fastball early, but was told he never topped 70 after the second inning.
“I thought I was throwing heat,” he said. After the game “I could barely stand up. My hands and feet were tingling. The Wiggins game was really tough.”
Brophy said he was told he probably would feel okay after the first round of chemotherapy, but it would get worse after the second and third rounds, and he likely would be done being so active for awhile.
“I was mentally preparing myself for that,” he said, “but I was able to keep going.”
The Hillsdale baseball team stayed in touch and provided support, which was a big lift.
“I was nervous they wouldn’t want me anymore, but they were really supportive,” Brophy said. “That made me less stressed.”
YHS was helpful in providing support, and teachers helped him greatly in giving him time to get done with all his school work. He had help preparing his science fair project, but in the end had to get it done himself. “Those two nights were real tough on me,” Brophy said.
It’s not like it was easy. He said he was often “super tired” but kept plugging along with help from his family, friends, school, the drama club cast and crew, and the community as a whole. The Wray baseball team parents held a benefit meal for him after the game there on April 13. (He showed his appreciation by pitching a shutout.) Still, the Wray community was very gracious and raised $1,600 from the event well attended by Wray and Yuma baseball families.
“Just everybody pitching in and helping out; it’s something I can never be grateful enough for,” he said.
Brophy also helped himself by maintaining a great attitude and sense of humor throughout. He himself came up with the moniker “One Ball Paul.” Friends created a wristband with that phrase as a hashtag, as well as the saying “Stronger Than Nuts” and sold them to raise funds.
“I guess I never really thought about it but a friend asked ‘how do you feel about everyone in northeast Colorado knowing you have one nut,” Brophy said. “There’s nothing I can do about that.
“You can mope around or try to look at the positives,” he added. “You have a choice of being happy or being sad, and being sad didn’t sound like very much fun to me.”
He concluded his chemo treatments in April, at which point he happily rang the bell that signifies when a cancer patient successfully completes treatment.
However, he still had to go back recently to have a scan done to make sure the chemo did not leave any lasting bad affects, and that his lymph node was normal. It all came back good.
“That’s when they officially put me in remission,” he said.
Brophy still needs to go back to Denver once per month for blood work, visit with the oncologist and get examined every other month, and get a scan done every six months. That schedule goes on for three years, after he which he has to go in for examinations and such every six months for another two years.
He was asked how the experience has changed him as a person.
“I have a greater respect for people going thorugh any kind of illness,” Brophy said. “It’s such a tough journey. I saw a video of a lady ringing the bell the other day, and that just has a whole new significance for me.”
Now it is time to make a run in the postseason with the baseball team, which is the No. 1 seed in this week’s district tournament, wrap up the school year and graduate with honors.
“I feel normal I guess,” Brophy said. “I just need some hair now and I’ll feel just like new.”
Testicular cancer is the leading cancer in men ages 15-44, but can affect any male from infancy to elderly.
It is 95 percent curable when detected early. If not detected early, it can grow rapidly with the ability to double in size in just 10 to 30 days.
Signs and symptoms include:
• A painless lump, change in size or any irregularity.
• Pain or discomfort in the scrotum or testicle.
• A dull ache or sense of pressure in the lower abdomen, back or groin.
Males are encouraged to do a self-examination once per month, best performed during or after warm shower. Feel for lumps, change in size or irregularties. (It is normal, however, for one testis to be slightly larger than the other.)
“It’s pretty easy,” Brophy said. “It’s not hard to see if something is up.”