PITTSBORO — The Northwood community is rallying around one of its own.
Over the last week, donations, messages of support and signs of solidarity have been flooding into the family of Troy …
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Update, 4/23/21: Since the publishing of this story, Troy's sister, Sami, has posted an important update to his GoFundMe discussing his treatment:
I wanted to let you know that the doctors have received pathology on Troy's lung tissue. It confirmed that the nodule they removed was Ewing's, meaning that this cancer has metastasized to his lungs. With this new information, Troy's treatment start date has been moved back to Tuesday of this upcoming week. The doctors want to run a PET scan to double check that they haven't missed any tumors elsewhere.
The level of difficulty for Troy has been raised, and his treatment will now be even more aggressive once it's underway. We had hoped that the cancer hadn't reached his lungs, but everyday we are learning this disease will take extraordinary steps to beat. Troy is holding up well, he is resilient and willful. He went to football practice on Wednesday to cheer on his team. They gave him a team signed helmet, shirt, and cap, which raised his spirits as well as the rest of the family's. They are a remarkable team and we appreciate their support.
The Northwood football team has playoffs tonight, so please send good vibes and support their way!
PITTSBORO — The Northwood community is rallying around one of its own.
Over the last week, donations, messages of support and signs of solidarity have been flooding into the family of Troy Ennis, a 16-year-old sophomore and football player at Northwood who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on April 9.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a rare form of cancer found in a person’s bones — or the soft tissue surrounding the bones — often seen in children or young adults. About 225 children and adolescents are diagnosed with it annually in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Ennis, a running back and linebacker for the Chargers, was preparing to play this season but was dealing with lingering ankle injuries earlier this year, holding him out of practice; his pain gradually worsened.
He made a couple of attempts to return to the field, but the pain persisted. Once it got to a certain point, it was suggested that Ennis go to a podiatrist to be evaluated, where a scan revealed a tumor in his left foot. A couple of weeks later, he was diagnosed with cancer.
“I got a text message from my mother telling me that Troy wanted to call me … so I set up the phone call and he told us it was cancer,” Sami Ennis, Troy’s older sister, told the News + Record on Friday. “Just from the rarity of it, we didn’t expect it.”
Once doctors discovered the issue, they quickly went to work on trying to further determine its severity, running x-rays on his lungs and conducting biopsies on his bone marrow, among other tests, to determine if Ewing’s had spread to other parts of the body, common with this form of cancer.
The hope for his family is that the cancer is localized in his ankle, and as of this writing, there have been no real signs of Ewing’s metastasizing to his bones or any other part of his body. While there are “concerning” spots found on his lungs last week that were determined to be cancerous cells and millimeter-sized tumors, according an update Sami posted on his GoFundMe page, his recent chest x-rays have looked clear and he was able to go home on Sunday night. They’re still awaiting results of a biopsy on his lung tissue.
“These past couple weeks with diagnosis and everything are hard because it’s just a waiting game,” Sami said.
Troy had his port put in for chemotherapy last Thursday in a lengthy surgery and will likely be looking at a “fairly aggressive treatment plan” in the near future. Sami wrote in an update on Monday that he “will be doing a one week on, one week off regimen for the next 9 months or so. This is considered the gold standard of treatment for Ewing’s with the highest success rate.”
The plan is for Troy to start chemo on Thursday at UNC Children’s Hospital.
The Ennis family is no stranger to medical scares.
When Sami was in middle school, her father had a life-threatening heart attack that required quadruple bypass surgery, keeping him in the hospital for nearly two months while he recovered.
While he’s healthy now, it was a time full of emotional and financial stress. But having already dealt with a serious emergency once, it somewhat prepared them for how best to handle Troy’s diagnosis — especially when it came to medical expenses.
“They had just finished, this last year, paying off (her father’s) medical bills,” Sami said. “And so this time around, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to set up this GoFundMe and I will just see if it helps at all.’ I wasn’t sure it was really going to do anything.”
On the campaign’s page, she wrote: “Up until two months ago, Troy was a normal 16 year old. He was a sophomore in high school who towered over all his friends at 6’3”, and he was playing football in the spring because of the pandemic. One day at practice, Troy sprained his ankle (or so we thought). After several weeks of taking a break Troy went back, only to be hurt again. My parents took him into the doctor, who explained that Troy had some torn and strained ligaments and said to give it more rest. After another couple of weeks, Troy went back and participated in football practice, only to call my dad crying because he was in so much pain. Troy was immediately sent to a podiatrist, and scans revealed a tumor in his left foot. Over the last couple of weeks we have been holding our breath as scans and workups have been done to determine what the tumor means. We were told on April 9th that Troy has cancer. At this time recommended treatment includes chemotherapy and possibly radiation. Troy is expected to spend the next 6-9 months (starting this week) in and out of the hospital, and it is going to be the fight of his life.”
It didn’t take long for Troy’s GoFundMe, entitled “Troy’s Journey with Ewing’s Sarcoma,” to spread beyond their immediate family. In hours, it reached friends, other members of the Northwood community and plenty of strangers located outside of Pittsboro.
Eight days after Sami started the campaign, it raised more than $58,000 of its $100,000 goal thanks to the generosity of more than 440 unique donors, many of whom have left touching messages of support alongside their donation. They’ve sent the family prayers, expressed kind sentiments and even told brief stories of their own battles with cancer.
There are even two donors that have contributed $5,000 each.
“In no way could we have imagined the amount of people that came out of the woodwork,” Sami said. “It just shows you how amazing people can be, especially right now with everything that’s going on. People are still willing — with all the trials and tribulations in their own lives — to donate to some poor kid who got a crap deal in life.”
The messages from GoFundMe donors have helped Sami see just how many people her family has touched over the years, especially in Pittsboro and the surrounding area. She called it “really humbling.”
In addition to monetary donations, support for the family has been shown in other ways, too.
A mom of one of Troy’s teammates set up a meal delivery schedule so their family doesn’t have to worry about cooking, buying or picking up their next meal and can focus on Troy’s treatment. Plenty of his teammates and friends have also stopped by to visit him both at home and the hospital to keep his spirits high.
In Friday’s playoff win over West Carteret, the entire Northwood football team wore “22” stickers — Troy’s number — on the back of their helmets in a tribute to him. Coaches, staff and fans also wore the stickers on their clothing.
“We’re all wearing ‘22’ tonight to show our support and let him know we’re thinking about him,” said Cameron Vernon, Northwood’s co-athletic director on Friday night. “And I know after this game tonight, all of the kids and the coaches, they were out there playing for him because they have Troy on their mind. … Anything we can do here at Northwood to help him and his family at this time, we’ve got their backs.”
Troy is known for being a big person — he’s a growing 6-foot-3 — with an even bigger personality, an enjoyable student to have in class and an exceptional, up-and-coming athlete. Switching from soccer to football once he got to high school, Sami said her brother fell in love with the game as soon as his dad convinced him to give it a shot his freshman year.
Despite going through the toughest moment in his life, Troy and the rest of the Ennis family are hanging in there, trying their best to stay upbeat and cracking jokes to lighten the mood.
“(Troy’s) been crazy great,” Sami said. “He’s been the rock for all of us, actually. He has tried to keep the most positive outlook that you can and at the same time, he has a little bit of humor about it, which is kind of how our family gets through stuff like this. … I think this is going to take a lot out of him, and it’s going to be a lot harder the longer it takes, but at the moment, he’s keeping his head up, which is the most we can hope for right now.”
To donate to the family’s GoFundMe or follow along with Sami’s updates on Troy’s journey, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/troys-journey-with-ewings-sarcoma?utm_campaign
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.