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Lady Trojans are Thomas’ sixth man after cancer diagnosis

Freshman at Ferriday High School Keondra Thomas was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)
Freshman at Ferriday High School Keondra Thomas was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)

Ferriday — The Ferriday High School Lady Trojans started the season off slow, but one tragic event turned their season around. Now, they’re doing it for “TeTe.”

Freshman guard Keondra “TeTe” Thomas felt a knot on her neck Jan. 6. Her mother, LaTonya, hoped it was just a thyroid, but took her to her doctor for a professional opinion.

The diagnoses was one no parent would want to hear.

“Her doctor saw something that was very abnormal,” Ferriday head coach Lisa Abron said. “So they advised her parents to take her to a doctor in New Orleans for further testing. They went the next day, and it turned out to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The disease affects the body’s ability to fight infection.

“I was just in shock, I couldn’t believe it,” LaTonya said. “I started crying. I was very emotional that day.”

LaTonya said the next step was explaining to Keondra what was happening.

“I explained to her the possibilities and hopefully the doctors can take care of it,” LaTonya said. “I explained to her it’s something she has to go through, and the Lord will handle the rest.”

Keondra is a soft spoken and shy person, but it doesn’t mean she isn’t strong in spirit.

Keondra went on about life normally, because in actuality, that’s all she could do.

“It doesn’t really bother her,” LaTonya said. “She went on to Ferriday’s basketball games (to watch her teammates play).”

Once Keondra and her parents expressed to Abron how serious the condition was, Abron had to figure out how to tell the team.

“The girls really didn’t know how serious it was until we said the word ‘cancer,’” Abron said.

News like that could deter the rest of a team’s season, but it did the opposite for the Lady Trojans.

Ferriday played against Sterlington High School in the first district game of the season shortly after hearing the condition of their teammate, and sophomore point guard Jada Griggs said there was an immediate change in the team’s attitude.

“At the game we prayed, and coach was like ‘Do it for TeTe,’ and before we played the game we always say to each other, ‘Do it for TeTe.”

Ferriday High School basketball players Jada Griggs, from left, Shaniqua Hillard and Kellisha Griffin wear purple socks embroidered with the No. 24 in support of Thomas. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)
Ferriday High School basketball players Jada Griggs, from left, Shaniqua Hillard and Kellisha Griffin wear purple socks embroidered with the No. 24 in support of Thomas. (Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat)

Griggs, who averages 20 points a game, said hearing the diagnosis was personal.

“It was heart breaking for me because I’ve known her since middle school, and she played basketball with me,” Griggs said.

Keondra said Griggs, known for her goofy character, keeps a smile on her face about

the situation.

“She says anything to encourage me, even crazy things,” Keondra said with a laugh.

The Lady Trojans beat Sterlington 53-29 and have since gone 5-3 after starting the season 5-7, to become an above .500 team.

And they did it all in the name of “TeTe,” as the players sport purple socks, shoelaces

and warm-up shirts with Thomas’ name airbrushed on it.

“Ever since we found out, we decided to dedicate our season to her and her recovery,” Abron said. “That’s who we’ve been playing for. We’ve been wearing purple socks and shoelaces because that is the color for cancer awareness.”

The school has also donated money to the Thomas family to help with Keondra’s medical expenses.

LaTonya said it warmed her heart to see the Lady Trojans and the community give back.

“That was a blessing when they said they were going to (dedicate the season to her), she wears purple, too,” LaTonya said.

Keondra said her teammates assured her that she’s not alone in her fight with cancer.

“I like that they encourage me and care about me,” Keondra said.

Abron said the team has gotten closer as well.

“Before, we weren’t a really close-knit team, but it’s bonded us,” Abron said.

Abron has been a big reason why the team has kept together, but that doesn’t mean the news has not hurt.

“It’s not news you want to hear about anyone, let alone one of our players,” Abron said. “It has taken a toll on me emotionally because I have to show people it’s not bothering me, but it hurts every day.”

Abron said Keondra comes to support the Lady Trojans as much as she can between trips to New Orleans for chemotherapy or when illness suddenly hits her.

“I wish I was out there playing with them,” Keondra said. “But I hope to play in the future.”

Though Thomas is not able to run down the court in a Ferriday uniform with a smile on her face, Abron said she would always remain with the team in spirit.

“She is a very sweet child, very cheerful and she always has a smile on her face,” Abron said. “She loves basketball. The hardest part about this is not having her on the team because she enjoys it so much. We miss her, and we’re praying for a speedy recovery.”

Ferriday High School is hosting a blood drive for Keondra from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 28 in the school’s band room.