ST. LOUIS — It could have been just a story about a really impressive student athlete. Imagine graduating from Washington University in three-and-a-half years with a double major in accounting and finance while also playing a sport.
“What Justin is doing right now is a miracle," Jack Nolan, a Washington University basketball player who is teammate of Justin Hardy said.
Hardy is really good basketball player. He does all of the little things that makes teams great and the Bears are just that. They are 12-1 on the season and are ranked No. 4 in the country. Hardy already has had a 28 point game. He averages 11. He sees the floor like a coach and every once in a while he will unleash a thundering dunk.
Justin Hardy also happens to have Stage 4 stomach cancer.
“The sadness was really tough at first just because I felt my life was kind of closing in on me," Hardy said. "And there wasn’t going to be all the things that I loved in my life. I felt like most of things were gone and I was finished playing basketball.”
Hardy got the news last April. At the time, he was dead lifting 450 pounds. Then the pain came in his stomach. Shortly afterwards, there was the surgery. Then he woke up and saw the surgeon.
“Based on the way the surgeon was talking about it, and the way they were kind of looking at me when I woke up from that surgery, I had a pretty good idea my life was never going to be the same," Hardy said. "They didn’t say it right there. It was a tough five days to sit on that news over the weekend and not know what was going to come next.”
What did come next was a demonstration of incredible resolve and courage. He had lost much of his athleticism. He had trouble walking up steps. He could barely jump 10 inches. He thought best-case scenario was that he could come back and maybe be a scout team performer. That’s quite a drop. We are talking about a player who was once the rookie of the year in University Athletic Association. He also made the all-conference team averaging 14 points and seven rebounds a game as a sophomore.
Now, instead of walking into gyms and weight rooms, Justin was walking into Siteman Cancer Center for treatment. He went through Chemotherapy five to 10 hours a day once every two weeks. Then after he leaves the hospital, he goes home with a chemo pump which runs through his system for 24 straight hours. He wears it to practice. Then a day later, he is out running his teammates in practice for fast break lay-ups. After that, he takes those skills to the game. His dunk against Illinois Wesleyan brought the house down.
He is doing this all with all those cancer drugs in his body.
“A couple of the drugs have this really bad effect where my feet and hands become numb," Justin said. "That is the hardest part about playing. You get used to it after a while.”
There are athletes who have come back after dealing with cancer. How many play through the treatment? Perhaps it’s never been done before. Justin knows that basketball is one of his best meds. It’s what he has done most and what he does best. He is playing the game, the game he thought he would lose.
His attitude is his biggest strength in this fight.
“The prognosis isn’t pretty, but I am not like most. This is pretty rare to see in a 21 year old. My age and my health status are two things I really have going for me," Hardy said. "You have to live your life. I am living in some of the best days of my life. This is one of the best years of my life that I have lived. I want to embrace the moment I am living in. Coming back and playing basketball and finishing my degree are two things that I really wanted to do. I am fearless. No matter what circumstances are, I am going to attack it the best I can."