'We can’t dwell on the past': Why Choctaw High's Avery Clark is still fighting even after a pandemic canceled her senior season
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CHOCTAW — Avery Clark wore camo pants the night she shaved off her hair before chemo could take it.
There were tears that February evening. How could there not be? Avery is a senior at Choctaw High School, and she should’ve spent this spring worried about her basketball banquet and her next slow-pitch softball practice, not chemo ports and side effects.
Avery loved her hair, too. Long. Thick. Brown. Curly. It was princess hair.
She knew she would lose it, though, and at a time she was being told what to do and where to be, she wanted to control something. So with family and friends and even coaches there at the Hairy Coconut Salon to support her, she soldiered on.
Once her locks were gone, she looked ready for boot camp.
Make no mistake — she is a warrior.
At a time kids everywhere are growing up sooner than we would like — this coronavirus pandemic has upended their lives — Avery Clark is fighting cancer, too. Seniors like her are dealing with the abrupt end of high school. Sports seasons halted. Proms canceled. Graduations amended.
Avery feels sad and angry and exactly like every senior does, but her perspective is different.
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“We can’t dwell on the past,” she said.
Not when the future has so much promise.
Oh, Avery is focused on this fight in the here and now. She has been since a pain in her arm during softball season in the fall turned into surgery to remove an inflamed lymph node turned into a cancer diagnosis in the winter.
There were tests and biopsies and a surgery to insert her chemo port, but it didn’t keep Avery away from basketball. She practiced and played when she could, but even when she wasn’t allowed, she was still there.
The gym was her safe place, and her teammates were her refuge.
“They made me happy,” she said. “They always put a smile on my face.”
But as much as they helped her, she helped them.
“You’re usually so focused on winning,” Choctaw coach Ryan Maloney said. “It’s kind of put it into perspective a little bit.”
People in Choctaw have always known what kind of competitor Avery is. She has never been the biggest; she stands just 5-foot-5. But she started for a Class 6A state basketball team and earned a college softball scholarship to Seminole State.
She battled every step of the way.
And that’s what she’s doing again.
Even after she took her first round of chemo back in late February, she played every game in the area basketball tournament. She was going to play at state, too. She was taped, on the bus and ready to go the day the tournament was postponed.
In the days that followed, when she started realizing the pandemic was bad and the likelihood of state being rescheduled was slim, she came to grips with the fact she’d played her last high school game.
“That’s not how we wanted it,” she admitted. “We really wanted to play those games.”
But she also realized she had actually been on the floor and played in her last game. She hadn’t been sidelined by chemo or a doctor’s orders.
She had played, and Choctaw had won.
Not everyone gets to say that about their last high school game. Avery is grateful for that.
Truth is, she's grateful for lots of things these days. Doing the learning-from-home thing means she can rest whenever she needs. Her second and third treatments — she takes chemo every 21 days — zapped her energy way more than her first one. She hardly got out of bed for several days, but she could rest because all of her classes are online.
Because of the pandemic, her parents are home, too. Her older brother even moved back into the house.
People in her hometown and beyond have been there for Avery, too. A GoFundMe account has raised more than $10,000, though fertility treatments to preserve a chance to one day have children will surpass that total alone. A lifelong friend and professional photographer, Lindsay Tesio, offered to chronicle the night of hair cutting.
The beautiful pictures were shared far and wide via social media.
Avery Clark has another photo snapped in more recent days that she hasn't shared as widely. In it, she holds a sign that says:
THIRD CANCER TREATMENT
ONLY OUT FOR CHEMO
She has on sweats, plastic gloves and a mask. You can't see her mouth, but you can tell she's smiling. Still smiling. Still fighting.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
How to help
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Choctaw softball and basketball player Avery Clark and her family as she fights non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. To donate, search "Team Up To Defeat Averys Rare Lymphoma" at gofundme.com.