CMN: Lubbock teen graduates HS while battling leukemia

CMN: Lubbock teen graduates HS while battling leukemia

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - To Preston Gilmore, Coronado High School basketball coached him how to reach his goals.

"My battle is, you're not going to win every step of the way," Preston said, "and you're going to have to toughen up and rub some dirt on it."

However, it was when this 18-year-old stepped off the court in January 2015 that he truly began to practice this advice.

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"You're going to make it through to the other side, no matter how ugly it is or not," Preston said, "and that's just how life is."

This life lesson was spurred by pain.

"I had a broken rib or something," Preston said. "It wasn't anything big, so I played through it."

But mere strength could not beat the opponent growing inside Preston's body.

"I told my mom, and we went to get an x-ray," Preston said, "and then that's when everything fell downhill from there."

Preston's primary care physician noticed that his liver was enlarged, so he recommended Preston go to UMC for a sonogram followed by a CT scan.

"We had a whole team of doctors…they called us back to the hospital and said, 'I just want to check you in," said Preston's mom, Teri Jo Gilmore. "We're going to run all of these tests and go ahead and do biopsies and blood work…everything you can think of from A to Z.'"

It was January 20: a grim day the Gilmores will never forget.

"That's when we got his official diagnosis acute lymphoblastic leukemia known as ALL," Teri Jo said, "and at that point, everything just kind of changed."

The Gilmores barely had time to process everything before treatments began, which Preston said was "surreal."

"My doctor said probably physical competition would be over," he said, "and at that point, I kind of just broke down and I was kind of lost in the moment…and I just asked, 'Why was this me?'"

The treatments to save Preston's life would take three years of chemotherapy, spinal taps and frequent hospital stays.

"I was just trying to erase that out of my mind," Preston said. "I'm perfectly fine."

But Dr.  Mohamad Al-Rahawan said the spot on Preston's liver and spleen proved otherwise. He sat the Gilmore family down to explain the disease and each treatment.

"That put us at ease, you know, having just met him and everything," Teri Jo said, "so it was a real comfort to be able to sit down and made us feel really, really good."

Preston had to switch his junior spring semester at Coronado for "homebound" lessons at his grandparents' home and UMC.

"Before that, my three-year plan was get through high school, make varsity basketball and hopefully get a college scholarship," Preston said.

With each bag of chemo, Preston not only lost his hair but a part of himself.

"There was a time when there were a lot of roller coasters rides," Preston's father, Kerry Gilmore said. "One day he feels great, the next day he felt lousy…he'd be depressed."

There was "just nothing" that would cheer Preston up at the time, until he stumbled upon a 1993 speech from former college basketball coach Jim Valvano.

"He had just been diagnosed with a really ill cancer," Preston said, "and I think he had about 30 tumors in his body all at one time, and he was only given months to live."

During the speech, Valvano advised the crowd to "Don't give up. Don't ever give up," which are words Preston borrowed to print on bracelets.

"I want to wake up every morning and remind myself," Preston said, "or else, I don't think I'm going to improve on anything."

Preston's doctors and nurses at UMC reinforced this message.

"They're just the best doctors around," Preston said, "and they're part of your family too. You may not think they are, but the nurses? They deeply care about you."

Through his courage, Preston has inspired people throughout Lubbock community.

"We have such a huge source of people at our church who are praying for us," Teri Jo said, "praying for Preston, praying for our family. Without that, we wouldn't be where we are today."

With that support system, Preston attended his senior year back at Coronado and graduated on May 28.

"You can see a little bitty light coming at the end of the tunnel," Teri Jo said.

During the ceremony, Lubbock ISD Superintendent Berhl Robertson told the crowd "Preston has battled leukemia" as he introduced students who fought to achieve.

"It's Preston's journey," Teri Jo said, "and where he's going right now, maybe somewhere along the way it's going to help somebody else."

Preston is halfway done with his treatments. While he initially wanted to attend colleges outside of Lubbock, he plans to attend South Plains so he can remain at UMC.

"Then I'm probably going to transfer to Texas Tech or Lubbock Christian University to study sports marketing," Preston said. "Sports has always been my love ever since I was a kid."

Even through Preston said he will be a sophomore in college before he is finished with treatments, he will "never give up."

"People are like, 'You still believe in God after He did this to you?'" he said, "and I'm like, 'Well, He did this for a reason.' And I know that the reason is going to show sooner or later."

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