Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Anthony Chiccitt of Bethel Park tackled his cancer in the same manner he approached adversaries on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond.
“Anthony didn’t talk a lot about it. He attacked it,” said his former football coach Jeff Metheny. “In whatever sport he is playing, Anthony is always prepared. He knows his competition and how to attack and win. With his cancer, he read up on the disease and the treatment. He readied himself for the fight and confidently set out to beat it.”
After a five-month battle, Chiccitt, indeed, beat the disease.
After having a lymph node under his arm removed in mid-June, follow-up tests revealed he was cancer free and he resumed his preparations for his senior season of football. The 6-2, 180-pound quarterback had modest expectations as the Hawks opened the 2019 campaign.
“I’m back to normal and ready to go, 100%,” he said during training camp. “So, I think over 1,000 yards is a good personal goal, but I really want the team to do well, win the conference and try for a WPIAL championship. I think we should be really good.”
In early February, however, Chiccitt and his basketball team were not doing well. The Black Hawks stumbled through a 13-9 season as Chiccitt’s health declined.
He discovered a lump. Med Express in turn noticed something in his chest and recommended an immediate visit to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“We were fortunate that every doctor we needed to see was there that night, radiology, oncology and surgery,” said Chiccitt’s mother, Kelly, of that fateful Feb. 7 that stretched into the following morning when he had a biopsy.
“I wasn’t feeling sick at the time,” Chiccitt said.
However, the biopsy results were sickening. There would be no celebrating his mom’s birthday nor Valentine’s Day. The Chiccitts discovered Feb. 12 He had cancer — the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma variety.
“Anthony said to me ‘I think I’ll be alright,’” said his father, Matt, because he had been looking up things on his phone.
Matt and Kelly weren’t so sure. They had watched the doctors before they came to speak to them about Anthony.
“I looked at Kelly and said ‘I don’t think is good’ because they all took a deep breath before they came in to tell us.” Matt said. “It was like telling you without telling you that you have cancer.”
When Matt and Kelly first told Anthony his diagnosis –he had Stage 4 cancer and it was in his neck, chest, stomach and pelvis – they sobbed.
“We were crying and losing our minds and he basically told us to stop crying. ‘I’ll be fine,’” said Matt of his son. “He then went upstairs and texted his friends. He told them ‘yep, this is what it is, but I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.’”
That reaction did not surprise Metheny, who watched Chiccitt handle pressure from opposing linebackers and defensive backs for two seasons, when he passed for nearly 1,000 yards in leading Bethel Park to back-to-back playoff appearances and one conference championship.
“Anthony is a very intelligent young man both on and off the field,” Metheny said of the honors student, who maintains a 3.8 GPA. “He has an uncanny ability to remain really cool under physical and mental challenges. He is the exact same way as a person. Confident, quiet, resilient and committed.”
Metheny added he wasn’t surprised Chiccitt “read up” on his disease and treatment.
“Anthony is always prepared, knows his competition and how he would attack it to win,” Metheny said. “Honestly, I really just can’t believe he was this sick. He kept lifting, practicing, playing and doing his school work like it was a regular day. (It is) unfathomable, really.”
Chiccitt underwent the first of four treatments Feb. 19. Each round followed a 21-day cycle. He had chemo Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday followed by a shot at home on Thursday.
During the process, he took a mixture of oral medications. On Mondays and Thursdays, he would have blood work done. Chiccitt looked forward to those twice-weekly excursions. They meant a stop at Brueggers for bagels before going to school.
Chiccitt had his last chemo session April 30.
During a May 16 checkup, his PET scan was clean and he was scheduled for the June 18 surgery to remove the lymph node.
During the time span, Chiccitt never deviated from his routine. Though his hair started to fall out, he still took his SAT exam. Though he suffered severe nausea, he still attended classes as well as his speed, strength and fitness sessions with trainer Ed Wietholder. He even excelled on the baseball diamond. This spring, he started at second base and shortstop. He batted .286 with a .485 on-base percentage and helped the Black Hawks win a section championship and reach the Final Four in the WPIAL Class 6A tournament.
“I don’t think people understand how sick Anthony was,” said Matt Chiccitt. “People would see him on the field and think, ‘Oh, it must not be that bad,’ but they didn’t see the amount of work and effort it took just to get out of bed. There were a lot of days that were worse than others. The last week of chemo easily was the worst. He threw up for three days, but he did not miss school and he never missed practices or any of his other workouts and activities. He handled this far better than his parents did.”
Despite his loss of appetite, Chiccitt only lost two pounds. He refrained from foods he loved such as Pasta Too’s chicken Parmesan and stuck to the BRAT diet as his doctors recommended as much bread and rice as possible to keep his weight intact.
“Eating was the hardest thing,” Chiccitt said. “There are a lot of foods I will not eat in my life again like hamburgers. Even if I think about them, I get a sick feeling and I ate them a lot. After that I tried to stay away from all the things I liked because I didn’t want to not like them.”
Chiccitt also didn’t like losing his hair. He said it was the only thing about his episode that depressed him.
“I definitely like my hair,” he said with a light laugh.
The hair loss though was the first realization of how serious Chiccitt’s situation was for his parents.
“We knew it was serious but you can take it for granted when you see him finishing a chemo treatment and then going to play baseball, lift, throw a football or play a round of golf with friends,” Matt Chiccitt said. “So you go, ‘oh, OK’ because there is nothing indicating he is sick. It’s like when you break a bone, you know in four weeks the cast will come off. You see it. So when the hair went that was a real hard reality. This is real. This is very serious. That was the first outside sign that something was wrong.”
Until then, only his family and close friends were aware of his condition. Anthony did not want added attention.
“Anthony really owned it,” said his father. “He kept us grounded and his friends grounded by doing his own thing.”
That did not surprise his teachers and coaches.
“Anthony is a good kid and a good student who manages his time wisely, which enables him to compete well in three sports,” said Tony Fisher, who teaches social studies and was Chiccitt’s baseball coach for the past three years.
Fisher noted what Chiccitt went through was “tough” but he never once heard him complain.
“Anthony’s an inspiration,” Fisher said. “He went about his business and did whatever he could to help his team win. I’m not sure how many other kids would have played a sport under those circumstances. That’s how tough and absolutely dedicated he is. He could’ve of easily bowed out this spring, but that’s not his style.”
Metheny concurred. The Bethel Park High School physical education teacher said Chiccitt attacked his cancer the way he approaches everything else in his life in an unassuming, quiet manner. He said Chiccitt did not talk a lot about his cancer, but he was “confident” that he would beat the illness.
“Anthony has been unbelievably strong from day one. He is one very tough young man,” Metheny said. “It was so crazy to think he could play high school baseball and still be going through what he did at the same time.”
Saved by sports
Sports have helped Chiccitt get through the rough patches.
His father introduced him to baseball when he was four and hitting off a tee in the recreation leagues. His father also coached him when he started football at six.
Chiccitt’s bonds were forged with Bethel Park High School then as current athletic director Dan Sloan served as his coach when he played on the YMCA co-ed basketball team.
“It was me and my dad always. Swing a golf club, grab a football, a bat,” said Chiccitt, whose average is good enough to make the golf team. “It was just part of growing up.”
Matt Chiccitt agreed.
“Sports were the first thing he did once he could walk,” he said, noting the Little Tykes hoop in the back yard where Anthony started shooting baskets.
Anthony spent much of his time as a child playing sports with his neighbor, David Lemley.
“He played in the street every night and his neighbor (Lemley) was always outside playing.”
So when he was diagnosed with cancer, Anthony’s first question to Dr. Julia Meade was could he continue playing baseball. To Anthony’s relief, her answer was a resounding “yes.”
“Sports definitely kept me normal,” he said. “It kept me feeling better than if I wasn’t doing anything.”
Chiccitt added he has learned lessons because of sports throughout his ordeal.
“Sports,” he said, “will always be there for you no matter what you are going through and I learned I really had some great friends.”
Classmates and teammates such as Cooper Shoemaker, Sean McGowan, Brandon Cole, Nate Currie, Will Patrizio, Juliana Carbone and Lauren Mullen would “grab” him and get him out of the house. The girls would take him for his favorite rainbow-sprinkled soft-serve ice cream cone or bring balloons, candy or presents. The core group of friends even went to UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and helped him ring the bell, signifying he was finished with his chemo treatments.
“Going through this would not have been the same without them,” Chiccitt said. “I’m fortunate to have such good friends. They played a big role and because of them it went faster than I expected, to be honest. They just kept me feeling normal and having fun. They would make me forget I had anything.”
While Chiccitt said the knowledge Meade will be his “doctor for life” is in the back of his mind, he has put the experience behind him.
Chiccitt is anxious to lead his football team to victory this fall. He is also looking forward to leading a long, fulfilled life because he has learned valuable lessons along the way that will benefit him in his future endeavors, which include playing college football. Chiccitt already has scholarship offers from the University of Buffalo and Elon.
Chiccitt said he discovered not to take anything for granted.
“One day you can be totally fine and next day you could have cancer. It’s crazy,” he said. “You never know what will happen in life so live it to the fullest. Any obstacle, you can overcome. Always be optimistic and look on the bright side of things.
“Before this, I usually looked at what’s wrong,” he added. “If I made a mistake in a game, I’d get down on myself. There are bigger things in life that are more important.”
Chiccitt said that despite the times he wanted to “yell” and ask “why me,” his ability to remain upbeat was important in his battle against cancer.
“Stay positive and keep doing what you have been doing,” he said. “Don’t let it affect you and don’t let others discourage you from doing things. Rely on your support system and you will get through this.”
Chiccitt’s attitude in the face of cancer delighted and relieved his parents.
Although they are aware Anthony is not considered in “remission” until after one year, they are thrilled to see him back in the pocket.
“To see Anthony happy, bouncing back and looking forward to things,” Matt Chiccitt said, “is very emotional.”
“Anthony’s beyond excited,” Kelly Chiccitt added. “For us, it’s still sinking in, but he looks strong and he’s like himself.”