Adolescence is often accompanied by a feeling of invincibility — a certain immaturity that allows teenagers to ignore the reality of their own mortality.
Not so for Jaran Hollis.
While in most respects a normal teenager — going to class, playing pitcher and shortstop for the West Marion High School baseball team, looking to his future as he prepares for graduation — the Trojan senior has maturity beyond his years. He knows full well that being young does not make him invincible.
It’s a healthy outlook to have, but in Jaran’s case, that perspective is hardly a surprise. After all, being diagnosed with cancer at age 6 is sure to have a maturing effect.
“It changes a lot,” Jaran said of his experience with the deadly disease. “It makes you look at life at a whole different level. Too many kids don’t get to experience some of the stuff that matures you.”
“Going through what he went through, he learned life lessons a whole lot earlier than adults do,” said Randy Hollis, Jaran’s father. “He puts every bit of effort into whatever he does.”
Alecia Hollis, Jaran’s mother and a registered nurse, vividly remembers the fateful day Jaran showed the first signs of rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer made up of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. She first noticed swelling in the roof of Jaran’s mouth after he complained of tooth pain. Several dentist visits and doctor referrals later, a biopsy in August of 2003 confirmed the family’s worst fears.
“As a mother, I had that mother’s instinct that something was not right,” Alecia Hollis said. “I always had that thought in the back of my head, “Could this be cancer?”
Fortunately, however, the tumor was contained to Jaran’s sinus cavity and had not yet spread into the orbit of his eye or elsewhere.
Doctors started Jaran on chemotherapy and radiation treatment immediately. Alecia Hollis saw the quality of her son’s character on full display even as the greatest trial of his young life began.
“(During the scanning period), I was trying to be strong; I didn’t want him to see me cry,” she said. “I remember me kind of tearing up as they did his CT. He looked at his daddy and said, ‘Daddy, Mama don’t think I’m gonna make it. But I’m gonna be just fine.”
“He’s faced every challenge like that.”
Jaran’s prediction rang true. To the surprise of doctors and Jaran’s family alike, the tumor was undetectable on a CT scan just 12 weeks after treatment began.
In spite of the good news, doctors warned Jaran’s parents that the treatment he had undergone would likely affect his growth and development. As their 6-year-old son had just survived cancer, the Hollises took the news in stride.
Twelve years later, Jaran is still cancer-free. And far beyond just surviving cancer, he has thrived. On top of continuing his schooling at a normal pace, Jaran further defied the odds by becoming an important part of the West Marion baseball program. He played infield and pitched for the Trojans while helping them to state playoff runs in 2013 and 2014.
“When he was little, you didn’t ever think he’d be able to (play baseball),” said Brandon Thornhill, West Marion head coach and Jaran’s uncle. “He was smaller, due to some of the radiation and chemo he received, but he hit a growth spurt and grew to be a bright, big young man.
“Now he’s playing high school baseball, living a normal kid’s life and enjoying it.”
But what has set Jaran apart from other players on the baseball diamond has not been his playing ability, but rather his enthusiasm and all-out attitude toward the game.
“He plays with that all-heart, all-out attitude,” Randy Hollis said. “He just plays differently.”
“He plays baseball with nothing but heart,” Alecia Hollis added. “That’s his love.”
West Marion fell short of postseason play in 2015, finishing its season on Tuesday with a loss to Sumrall.
Despite the disappointment of missing the playoffs in his senior campaign, Jaran has kept perspective with regard to his time playing for Thornhill’s squad.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “You don’t get many chances to play under a good coach, and (Thornhill) always knows how to push you to the limits and really get a lot out of you.”
With his imminent graduation from high school on May 22 in mind, Jaran is looking to the future. Specifically, he has focused on college and what he wants to accomplish in the classroom.
“I want to do something in a technical field, probably,” Jaran said. “Either that or sports medicine.”
With cancer behind him and high school almost finished, Jaran is set to take on his next challenge with the same vigor and determination with which he’s tackled the trials his young life has already thrown his way.
“He’s had a lot of adversity – injuries and things like that – but he has always been determined,” Alecia Hollis said. “He never gives up.”
Author: Ben Sutton, Mississippi (Hattiesburg American Paper)