When doctors diagnosed leukemia in Scott Hawf, tennis was the first thing he asked about.
Two years ago, Hawf’s play came to a halt during a doubles tournament. Hawf and Jon-Eric Meyer, the No. 1 singles player for Rock Bridge this season, dominated until Hawf took a drink of Gatorade and could not keep it in his mouth.
He developed Bell’s palsy, which causes a person to loose control of facial functions and is a symptom of leukemia. People carried Hawf off the court and straight to University of Missouri Health Care.
Immediate blood tests showed no signs of leukemia, but two days later doctors diagnosed the disease in Hawf.
After the diagnosis, Hawf began intense chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A week after finishing the initial rounds of therapy doctors did a lumbar puncture to check the status of the disease. The test showed the leukemia went into remission. Despite the good news, his mother, Debbie Hawf, said she knew the struggle was far from over.
“You know within a week or so if it’s already in remission but you still have this really rough part of your treatment for the next four or five months,” she said.
Hawf competes with Rock Bridge (12-1) on Saturday at Waynesville in the District 5 Tournament. The top two teams advance to the sectional tournament, which the District 6 winner hosts.
During his treatment, Hawf looked at cyclist Lance Armstrong as a role model. Debbie Hawf said the will to play tennis helped Hawf, but the road to recovery was long. The treatments ravaged Hawf’s body and caused problems Debbie Hawf banished to the back of her mind.
“You don’t even think of (playing),” she said, “You just feel like you’re going to die it feels so bad.”
Hawf agreed with his mother, saying it was impossible for someone who never suffered from the disease to relate to how bad the treatment is. There were times he questioned his ability to play again.
“Sometimes when I would wake up in the morning after getting chemo I would just feel like, ‘I don’t know how am I ever going to get back into this,’” Hawf said. “I would be really upset and depressed just because I felt so cruddy.”
The tennis community stood behind Hawf as he continued his treatments. It had a tournament in his name. In addition, Rock Bridge coach Ben Loeb and his teammates visited him in the hospital.
Hawf missed his freshman year of school and his first year of tennis. Last year, he watched a few matches but it was too difficult to see other people play when his body would not let him.
About a year ago, Hawf was ready to get back on the court but his body was not. Prednisone, a drug to help counter the effects of chemotherapy, increased his weight dramatically and lessened his motor skills. Hawf was determined to play.
On the first serve hit to him, Hawf ran to make the return, stumbled over his feet and fell. Hawf got back up and tried it again.
After taking prednisone for a while, it proved to be too much to handle. The doctors took him off the drug and his weight immediately started to drop, he was less depressed and his motor skills came back. He was ready to compete. His parents hired a trainer to get him back in shape for the 2004 tennis season.
Hawf’s troubles were not over. Osteoporosis caused by chemotherapy led to a broken foot and hand earlier this year. The injuries were a setback, but Hawf recovered in time for tryouts. Debbie Hawf remembers his first match for Rock Bridge vividly.
“It was just the most wonderful day,” she said. “I mean it’s just something that we have talked about and looked forward to since the day he was diagnosed.”
Loeb said Hawf’s ability to face his disease and then return to tennis was admirable.
“He deserves all the credit in the world for all the treatments and diversity he’s gone through,” Loeb said.
Hawf has six weeks of chemotherapy left. His mother, coach and teammates cannot wait to see how he will play at full strength. Hawf does not know what to expect.