- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

BRANTLEY, Ala. (AP) - Alex Wilcox passively stands, eyes darting around at the scene, her shy nature overwhelmed.

Why are all these people here for me?

It’s something that still feels unnatural, a month after it all began with a doctor telling a 16-year-old something anyone would dread: You have cancer.

Since, near-strangers have sent her uplifting messages. T-shirts and bracelets have appeared around town lifting up her name. Hugs and smiles have so consumed her that it’s as if the community is trying to love the cancer away.

It definitely left her antsy a week ago when more than 50 players showed up in Brantley for a softball clinic. Three NCAA Division I head coaches were there, too.

All for her.

“It’s crazy,” Wilcox said, surveying the scene before her.

“I would have never expected this.”

Wilcox is almost embarrassed at the attention generated since a doctor gave her and her family such a big surprise Christmas Day.

At the moment some 16-year-olds may have found a set of car keys under their tree, Wilcox was a week into a hospital stay at Montgomery’s Baptist East.

A pain in her right side a week earlier persisted long enough - and painfully enough - that she went to a doctor in Luverne.

“The night before, we were watching a movie and she said it hurt real bad,” said Kassidy Wilcox, Alex’s younger sister by two years. “Every time she moved, it hurt.”

Alex suspected appendicitis when she slid into a CT scan. Soon after leaving it, she was quickly dispatched by ambulance to Montgomery.

More tests and waiting followed - appendicitis isn’t this severe, is it? - with one procedure where Wilcox was sure they “drained like two liters of fluid.”

Squeamish of needles, Wilcox soon was able to quickly offer an arm for twice-daily blood tests.

Instead of wrapping presents, she was stuck in a hospital when Santa Claus made his rounds and Christmas gave way to another C-word.

It hit like a load of coal.

Cancer.

Wilcox, five months after getting her driver’s license, was diagnosed with malignant ovarian cancer.

“I don’t know if I can explain it,” mom LeAnn Wilcox said, describing her initial reaction.

The shock wore off, as much as it could, and the family found serenity in Alex’s reaction.

In summary: God wouldn’t give this to me if I couldn’t handle it.

“It’s scary, but I know everything will be OK,” Alex said. “Sometimes, I may wonder, ‘Why me?’ but maybe it’s something I can use to be an inspiration to other people.”

She wasn’t emotionally shattered and she shed no tears, though ovarian cancer is something so rarely faced by a teen.

Half of those diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 or older and is rare before 40, according to the American Cancer Society. Wilcox, again, is 16.

“She’s been unbelievably strong compared to me,” mom LeAnn Wilcox said. “I know it sounds weird, but I look to her for strength.”

Two days later, on Dec. 27, Alex checked out of the hospital and lugged herself - her sore self - through the door of her room at home to another surprise.

This one pleasant.

Her Brantley softball teammates, the ones she helped lead to a state championship each of the last two seasons, had decorated her room to celebrate her return.

Wilcox could only smile.

“I couldn’t move a lot,” she said. “I told everyone that I felt old because I couldn’t get up and do anything by myself.”

Once word of her cancer spread, the community marshaled its forces, too, in a way only a small town could.

There are two T-shirts available. There’s also a bracelet that cajoles readers to “pray for Alex.”

Proceeds from sales go to support Alex’s medical expenses.

Last weekend, the benefit softball clinic featured the entire coaching staff from Mississippi State, plus coaches from Troy, South Alabama and Dothan’s Wallace State Community College.

(The family has insurance, LeAnn said, though co-pays and other expenses are currently unknown. Regardless, dad Shaun, mom and daughters are appreciative.)

“Everyone in Brantley and from around the area has been so supportive,” Alex said. “So many people have sent me letters or messages on Facebook. There have been signs at basketball games.”

Alex verbally committed to Mississippi State when she was a Brantley freshman. Due to her status as a “potential recruit,” the NCAA had to issue a waiver to allow MSU, Troy and South Alabama coaches to attend the clinic.

Because Wilcox is a “potential recruit,” MSU coach Vann Stuedeman - a Huntingdon College Hall of Famer - declined comment, citing NCAA rules.

“We knew some coaches were coming (to the clinic), but we were overwhelmed when an entire staff shows up,” LeAnn Wilcox said. “We love Mississippi State.

“Every time we go over there, it’s a wonderful atmosphere and we love it.”

Wilcox starts chemotherapy Feb. 8 and the treatment plan is due to last 9-12 weeks. Doctors have not addressed if the cancer will affect Alex’s ability to have a family, LeAnn said.

But Alex doesn’t plan for all this to interrupt her junior softball season.

But Wilcox extracted one promise from her oncologist and, based on the interest she’s already expressed to coach Cindy Hawthorne in this year’s Brantley Bulldogs, it’s something she’ll use.

If she feels OK, she can play.

The season opener is Feb. 29. The state tournament is May 18-21 at Lagoon Park.

“I told Coach Hawthorne that they can’t slack up or anything,” Wilcox said. “They wouldn’t slack up if I was out there, so I wouldn’t expect them to if I’m not.

“I’ll still be there. I may not play (some days), but I’ll still be there.”

Her name, along with those of the other players on Brantley’s state championship teams, is already on the fence of the school’s softball field.

Twice.

While everyone around her is obviously focused on the cancer, Wilcox - at least outwardly - is fixated on a third banner. And maybe a fourth.

“We’re going to do what we can to help her get through this,” LeAnn Wilcox said. “She’ll look back one day years from now and she’ll have a good story to tell.”

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