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‘Nobody thought it was cancer’: Former Hudsonville player recovering from cancer

By Remi Monaghan

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    JENISON, Michigan (WXMI) — “Psalms 28–7. It says, ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield. And my heart trusts in Him. And with my song I sing his praise,’” said Ian Smith.

That verse was spoken in many hospital rooms during Ian Smith’s none-month-long battle with cancer. The Hudsonville grad was playing football at Upper Iowa University last fall when he noticed sharp pain in his neck.

“I’d be standing there with my helmet on and I’d look down and I couldn’t pull my head back up so it started to get a little scary,” said Smith.

The team doctor ordered an X-ray that showed a tumor wrapped around his C2 vertebrae.

“We were pretty far into the process before anyone said it was cancer. It was clear from the day I got the X-ray that there was a tumor or something back there but nobody thought it was cancer,” said Smith.

It wasn’t just cancer but Ewing’s sarcoma. It’s a very rare and aggressive form of bone cancer. Last September doctors at the Mayo Clinic performed a surgery to remove the affected vertebrae and replaced it with bone from his hip to fill the spot in his neck.

The surgery was then followed by 30 rounds of radiation and 17 rounds of chemotherapy. The nine-month treatment was hard for his loved ones to watch.

“Literally seeing it killing … like, killing him. And him trying to not let it. Losing a bunch of weight, to no hair, there are just so many things. It’s just such an evil disease and it breaks you down so fast,” said Maddie VanderSelt, Ian’s girlfriend.

Good news came June 7. Ian got to ring the bell to signal that he is cancer-free.

And on Saturday, the Smiths held a celebration for him to be able to visit with friends and family that he hasn’t seen since he was diagnosed. Nearly 100 people got together at Hager Park in Jenison to celebrate his health.

“Kinda makes me a little bit emotional because we chose to be very public with my diagnosis, with the cancer journey if you want to call it that. We chose to be very public with that and I think it helped us out quite a bit. I’ve gotten loads of texts and calls with prayers and people sending us encouraging notes or providing us with anything that we could need,” said Ian.

Even at his weakest, Ian and his family were being held up by the ones closest to them.

“There’s a story that talks about Moses holding up his hands and his arms got tired. Ian’s battle, he got tired. And Maddie was holding his hands up and the family was holding Maddie up and our community was holding us up,” said Michelle Smith.

From gas money to maintenance at their house while they were at the hospital to meals and anything else you can think of, their support never wavered.

“They held up our hands and we held up Maddie’s hands and Ian fought the battle,” said Michelle Smith.

Ian has one more semester of school left before he’ll graduate with his degree in business administration. He’s taking it day by day right now, so he isn’t practicing with the football team but hopes to make it to their home games this fall. Ian will have his first remission scans in September. He and his family also hope to raise awareness and research funds for Ewing’s sarcoma as it is one of the least researched of all cancers.

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