SHIPROCK — Jarrad Keeswood is a winner.

Keeswood, 16, wins every time he stands up, every time he takes a step and every time he wakes up in the morning because for the past year and a half, Keeswood has battled a rare form of muscle cancer that nearly took his life.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a type of muscle cancer that typically affects children and adolescents.

Jarrad, at the dawn of his high school football career, developed a lump in his foot during his freshman year, and was constantly in pain, said Earlinda Keeswood, Jarrad's mother. He grew increasingly weak throughout the following months. A series of hospital visits only revealed he was suffering from muscle aches and growing pains, attributed to long football workouts, Earlinda said.

Jarrad started using crutches to walk and eventually needed a wheelchair. Jarrad watched his hopes of playing football slip away as his ability to run and walk deteriorated.

"He no longer wanted to go to school because of the pain," Earlinda said. "It got to the point he couldn't get out of bed anymore."

His parents realized something more serious was happening to Jarrad and requested he be evaluated at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. Biopsy tests from the lump in his foot, sent across the country, diagnosed the cancer. The disease had progressed throughout his body, with a tumor in his foot, a tumor at the base of his spine and several in the area between the skull and the brain, said James Keeswood, Jarrad's dad.

Doctors told him there was no treatment protocol for rhabdomyosarcoma, and they would have to use treatments meant for other cancers. The treatment would be "aggressive," James said.

Jarrad was given a 20 percent chance to live.

Chemotherapy ravaged Jarrad's body, but it was his love of football that helped him through, he said. Today, the tumor in his foot and the masses in his head are gone. A mass remains at the base of his spine, but doctors believe only scar tissue is there, James said.

While Jarrad continues to win against cancer, he also continues to fight to win back things cancer threatened to take away.

Jarrad missed more than a year of school. He returned to Shiprock High School this month, and his parents worked with school officials to develop a plan to get Jarrad back on track.

"Some kids, they don't even realize the opportunities. I would do anything just to go back to school and be in school," Jarrad said of when he was sick.

But Jarrad's passion for football, the one thing that helped him survive, may also be the one thing he permanently lost.

Tears spill over his cheeks and Jarrad buries his head into his folded arms when he talks about it.

"They don't think I'll be able to play," said Jarrad, who started playing in the area's Young America's Football League. His goal was to become a state champion, he said.

Jarrad's family also continues to recover from his illness. More than a year going to the hospital in Albuquerque left the family struggling to maintain finances.

"More or less in the past year and a half, all we've been doing is taking Jarrad to Albuquerque," Earlinda said. "We've left our financial responsibilities behind."

Family members, through fundraising efforts, are trying to rebuild their lives.

This Saturday, they are hosting a benefit motorcycle ride from Farmington to Shiprock in honor of Jarrad.

The ride, which costs $20 for an individual rider and $5 each additional rider, departs from American Home Furnishing at 10 a.m. and travels through Hesperus and Cortez, Colo., before finishing in Shiprock. The ride includes a meal, door prizes and musical entertainment.

"I hope the community will come out and support this family," said Ricky Ballard, Jarrad's football coach. "What a great way to support a kid that's beat all the odds and a family that has beat all the odds."

The family also will fly to Orlando, Fla., to visit Disney World as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Some of the money raised Saturday will fund part of the trip.

"The experience made us more humble and the importance of having material stuff is not important," Earlinda said. "It's the day-to-day living that matters."

Jarrad also focuses on the day-to-day.

"He doesn't care about tomorrow, he doesn't care about yesterday, he's in the moment," James said.

While Jarrad continues to recover from chemotherapy, he participates in football any way he can, whether watching the games from the sidelines or assisting the team in other ways.

"It just makes me mad when they say I can't do it," Jarrad said.

Elizabeth Piazza: epiazza@daily-times.com

If you go

  • What: Benefit Bike Run for Jarrad Keeswood

  • When: 10 a.m. Saturday

  • Where: American Home Furnishings at 1001 W Broadway, in Farmington

  • Information: James and Earlinda Keeswood at (505) 486-2560 or (505) 368-2612 or Renee Benallie at (505) 592-7376.