After 6-year cancer battle, senior returns, leads team in tackles

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

DeJuan Smith-Whittaker was sick of waiting. Six years after being diagnosed with lymphoma, he still wasn't being allowed to return to football, the one sport he most desperately wanted to play.

Livonia Clarenceville football player Dejuan Smith Whittaker
Livonia Clarenceville football player Dejuan Smith Whittaker

As profiled by The Detroit News, Smith-Whittaker had continued to compete in basketball and spent a season running track, but he was desperate to strap on a helmet, and this was his last chance: Smith-Whittaker was entering his senior season at Livonia-Clarenceville (Mich.) High.

Finally, in late July, doctors at Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital gave his return to the gridiron a thumbs up. In September, Smith-Whittaker finally got back on the field, and the linebacker wasted no time making the most of it. In his first game back, the senior led the Trojans in tackles, finishing with 12.

Not surprisingly, the teen was thrilled just to be back.

"It was hard sitting out," Smith-Whittaker told the News. "I wanted to get back sooner. This being my senior year, I want to have a great season. That first game back [against Ann Arbor (Mich.) Gabriel Richard High] I felt great to be back on the field."

Six years and one heavy chemotherapy treatment later, Smith-Whittaker's lymphoma is in remission, but the senior still struggles with health issues related to his condition. For instance, just last spring Smith-Whittaker collapsed in the family's kitchen after feeling sick.

[Related: Hockey fans boo anti-cancer video]

The Smith-Whittaker family still hasn't received results back from tests taken in June, just two months after that incident. Still, in the meantime, being back on the football field -- and succeeding on it -- is a powerful salve for Smith-Whittaker's health problems.

"DeJuan is feeling good," Smith-Whittaker's mother, Kim Whittaker, told the News. "After all this, it's been a good year for him."

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