BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Teenage years in someone’s life are typically about being carefree. Like the normalcy of high school football. But that word normal was never the same after 2020, especially for 17-year-old Braden Waterman who was waiting his turn to become Bakersfield Christian High School's next starting quarterback in spring of 2021. But it was his junior season at Paso Robles High School when Braden’s life changed forever.
“It was the last game of our regular season. I got a really bad fever and it really affected how I played that night. I was dropping the ball. It just wasn’t there," explained Braden. "It was just very hard because I didn’t know and doctors were trying to do blood tests. Testing this and testing that and could just never figure it out."
"And then it was January 1st, I went into Valley Children’s Hospital in Fresno and they ran a blood test they figured out it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Stage 3B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And that was kind of the start to my journey."
A journey that would touch everyone in the Waterman family.
“As a mom, of course, he’s 6’4” this big kid and he’s so stoic, and to see him just break down in complete and utter despair," said Braden's mother Michelle. "Probably just the worst part for me. Just struggling with those emotions like 'what can I do,' you know. And it’s just a helpless feeling because in those instances you can’t take it away from him. He’s got to walk through this."
“Gosh, I mean, Michele and I would just literally, we’re crying and he’s just so strong, like, ‘what’s wrong? I got this, it’s fine.’ So that was one of the most defining moments for us as parents especially for me, like, I can learn from my kid,” added Brock Waterman, Braden's father.
“As kids and a young adult, we think we’re invincible and that’s kind of not the case, unfortunately," said Braden.
An athlete who was used to being battle-tested was now battling his greatest test: for his life starting with chemotherapy.
“It was every other week of chemo. Hard pounding. Just bags and stuff like that. It was terrible. Chemo’s the worst," said Braden.
What got him through the worst of it was his determination to return to his normal: football.
“This is what propelled his recovery because he just kept thinking that I got to get back on the field. I got to get throwing. I got to get running. I got to get strength in my body and he just took off from there," explained Michelle.
It took Braden four months to beat cancer.
Now with an even greater desire to return to playing the Eagles’ newest quarterback was working hard to get back to his full strength after dropping more than 30 pounds while sick. But by October 2020, with the season still sidelined due to the pandemic, Braden was knocked down again.
“A week before my 18th birthday, I went in for a scan to make sure it was still gone and they came back and said that it had come back," said Braden.
Added Michelle: "Drop to your knees sick to your stomach like how could this even be. He was doing all the right things."
"I kind of just fell apart. I was mad. I was angry. It was a tough time for me," said Braden.
He didn’t back down. This time with more knowledge he completely changed his diet and focused on more holistic approaches. With a stronger than ever faith that he could win this battle again.
“You can never lose faith especially when you’re in the darkest of places. You can never lose faith. God puts us through these things that pushes us to become closer to him,” said Braden.
“Beating cancer twice for him was like, 'ok, I have a new lease on life.' And I think for him and just his parents watching him, he’s having fun with football right now," said Brock.
With football back to normal in the fall of 2021, the same could be said for Braden, starting at quarterback for the Eagles and more importantly cancer-free.
BCHS head football coach Darren Carr has seen firsthand the impact Braden has on the field but now the more important one off of it.
“You get one of those kids that have been through hell basically, not knowing if he was going to live, not knowing if he would ever play sports again let alone just anything so you hear his story, hear how he’s persevered through a lot of stuff, you talk to his family, you talk to his brother you really get drawn into him," explained Carr. “Man no matter what is the end for this, you’re going to be able to bless some other kids. But he’s going through something that’s going to last him a long time and he’s going to be a blessing to somebody.”
From waiting to watch their boy get back on the field to watching their two sons play out Braden's final high school season together this new even better normal is something Braden and his family won’t ever take for granted.
“He’s changed Michele and I," said Brock. "He’s changed his brother Bryson. He’s changing people around him that know him. He’s literally changing people and their perspective on life. What’s important and what’s really not important. He’s been our rock and our idol at times. It’s crazy.”
“Just amazing to watch him have a goal, have a dream and still continue to chipping away at it,” added Michelle.
"I’ve kind of grown from where I was to where I am now. God knew the plan and he got me here. It’s amazing. it really is.”