- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2016

WATHENA, Kan. (AP) - Following a May 5 baseball game, Ta’Lian Wilkinson returned home and unwound like it was any other night.

He pitched that evening, leaving room for an excuse for pain on the right side of his body. Ta’Lian woke up in the middle of the night, crying and begging for help from his mother, Kellie.

“I was saying, ‘Mom, my arm, my left side, I can’t feel it.’ We thought I was having a heart attack,” said Ta’Lian, a sophomore at Riverside High School.

Battles were nothing new for Ta’Lian, who underwent multiple procedures before the age of 4 after being blind in his left eye. Never could he, or anyone in the Wathena community, imagine his fights could get tougher.

Ta’Lian was transferred from a local emergency room to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.

“They came, they took my blood, and they diagnosed me with leukemia,” Wilkinson said. “It just came out of nowhere”

Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. The cancer usually gets worse if treatment doesn’t begin promptly, though Ta’Lian’s was found rather quickly.

One of four children, Ta’Lian grew up around sports with his older brother, Tre’Nez, a senior at Riverside. Although he was not in the emergency room at the time of diagnosis, forgetting how the news was delivered to him is something we will never forget.

“Well, I was walking to my fourth hour and his girlfriend (Macy) - they’ve been together forever - she told me she was sorry and I never knew what happened until he sent me the text message and I looked at her phone,” Tre’Nez said. “It was a hard time. Just like every bad thought was running through my head and it was hard to stay positive.”

His way of keeping Ta’Lian on the field comes by him standing out, as fans will see during tonight’s Riverside (3-2) homecoming game against Maur Hill-Mount Academy at 7 p.m. Tre’Nez’s outfit is comprised of mostly orange - the color of leukemia awareness - from his shoes to his gloves, as well as the entire team’s tape.

Ta’Lian’s love of sports goes beyond the gridiron. In addition to baseball and football, his first passion is basketball.

Now, he can barely be around. He attends school virtually from home, must wear a mask around people and can occasionally make his way to Riverside High School for lunch with his friends.

His outlook is far from negative, however.

“I think it’s God saving my life, basically,” Ta’Lian said, “because if that lymph node wouldn’t have swollen up, I probably wouldn’t be as healthy as I am.”

“It’s definitely interesting,” said sophomore Dawson Dick, who is Ta’Lian’s teammate and one of the leaders of the Riverside football team. “I mean, it definitely brings a whole ‘nother level to why you wanna play hard and why you wanna play for your community.”

The St. Joseph News-Press reported (http://bit.ly/2dHbMR0 ) that three years of treatments await Ta’Lian. Rough times came at the start of treatments with stomach issues pushing them back multiple weeks, though Ta’Lian is improving day-by-day.

And as long as he stays on course, Ta’Lian will return to the hardwood in January.

You can guarantee he will be stronger than ever.

“It was the happiest day of my life because I really love the sport,” Ta’Lian said of hearing he could play basketball again one day. “So when they told me that, I was like, it makes me feel better.

“I can still do what I used to do even though I have leukemia.”

To donate and assist with Ta’Lian’s expenses, please visit www.gofundme.com/233xt7wg.

___

Information from: St. Joseph News-Press/St. Joe, Missouri, http://www.newspressnow.com

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