Bell rings in new season with hope
Eudora High School senior Andrew Bell's desire to play high school basketball led him to physician Michael Mathews' office on June 3, 2001, his 16th birthday.
Bell's sports physical that day may very well have saved his basketball career, and much more importantly, his life.
Mathews discovered something uncommon during Bell's check-up, so he referred him to a field specialist, Bradley Davis of Neurologic Surgery Associates.
"The doctor (Mathews) found something strange, and he sent me to the neurologist, and that's when it was determined I had cancer," Bell said. "There's a possibility I was just born with it. We detected it early, thanks to the physical."
Davis and his staff performed surgery to remove the cancer four days later June 7.
"After my first surgery, my church youth group was going on a trip," Bell said. "A lot of cars stopped by my house to check up on me. I had a lot of prayers from people, too."
Bell's diagnosis happened on the same week as Eudora's Relay for Life at Laws Field in Eudora. Relay for Life mainstay Marilyn Laws Porter called the Bells, and Rita Conner set up a luminary for Andrew.
One of Bell's friends, senior Luke Powers, visited the 6-foot-five-inch Bell along with seniors Heath Fanning, Dustin Moyer, and Andrew Pyle.
"It's pretty awesome," Powers said of Bell's recovery. "It takes a lot of guts. He's not sensitive talking about it."
Bell, along with his parents, Donald and Elaine, discussed the circumstances of a second surgery with Davis. Since the cancer may have moved to the lymph nodes, the Bells and Davis decided Andrew would undergo preventative surgery Aug. 6.
"It took us all by surprise," Elaine Bell said. "He had a lot of people praying for him. It pretty well wiped out our summer of 2001. We were just in shock, but we were truly grateful Dr. Mathews detected it early."
Andrew left the hospital four days after the doctors removed lymph nodes from the right side of his abdominal area.
He went home for a six-week recovery period but he managed to go back to school on time and think about his favorite winter sport.
"He never once complained," Elaine said. "He'd always check the schedule when basketball practice was starting to make sure he'd be in shape for it."
Bell's father admired his son's courage and his commitment to a quick and successful recovery.
"He was really a little trooper through it all," Donald said. "He's my son, but he's tough as nails. He was released from the hospital on a Friday, and I had him attend church on Sunday to show everyone their prayers had been answered."
When Bell arrived at Eudora High School in late August 2001 for his junior year, he wasn't allowed to carry his books from class to class.
Elaine said Eudora High School principal Dale Sample and varsity basketball coach Scott Stein were extremely helpful during the entire recovery period.
"Mr. Sample was terrific," she said. "He informed all of the teachers because at the time we didn't know where it was headed. Mr. Stein gave him a lot of confidence, too, as well as his other teachers."
Sample made sure he had the same encouragement at home. Pyle picked Andrew up from school for the first few weeks since he couldn't drive.
Andrew said he had confidence the whole time that he'd be okay.
"I knew I'd eventually be alright after everything," he said. "I've always been able to deal with pain and hold back emotions well. When it got down to surgery time, I got a little scared."
Fortunately, the doctors didn't find any cancer in the lymph nodes so Andrew didn't have to undergo chemotherapy.
He returns to Davis' office every six months for precautionary checkups, which include chest x-rays, blood work, and a CAT Scan.
Slowly but surely, Andrew regained his strength and began focusing more and more on the upcoming basketball season.
"I was feeling like I was getting back to normal," he said. "I took a weightlifting class and started getting stronger and better."
Bell, who played freshman basketball and junior varsity as a sophomore, made the junior varsity team as a junior in November 2001. This season, he's the starting center on the 4-2 Eudora varsity squad.
"When he came to camp last summer, he had a real good camp," Stein said. "By late summer, I was expecting him to contribute. He's making a lot greater contribution than I anticipated last year."
Bell was one of seven Eudora players to go to the Oklahoma University team camp in June 2002. He recalls the amount of confidence Stein had in him and how cool it was to meet the man who directed the Sooners to the Big 12 Championship and the Final Four -- Kelvin Sampson.
"Coach Stein has been the first coach to give me the chance to play," Bell said.
Bell keeps up with Kansas University basketball but hopes to attend either Kansas State University or Pittsburg State University next fall. He plans to study engineering with an emphasis in industrial design.
Bell counts his blessings and continues to focus his attention on the basketball court.
"My goal is to keep getting better and stronger," Bell said. "We've played quite well in some games. Looking back, I'm just glad to be part of it all."