Leukemia diagnosis gives basketball player Andrew Jones a new perspective

Andrew Jones was a rising star on The University of Texas men's basketball team in late 2017, when he started experiencing flu-like symptoms. Thinking it was just a virus, the sophomore guard pushed himself to keep playing until a broken wrist finally forced him onto the sidelines. But the symptoms persisted, even after Andrew’s wrist healed and he’d returned to the basketball court.

“I just thought I had the flu,” Andrew — now preparing for his senior year — explains. “But when I tried to come back, I was still having trouble. I started having headaches, dizziness and trouble breathing. I was also coughing up blood and had a fast heartbeat.”

A trip to the doctor in January 2018 revealed it was more than a virus. Andrew had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“That was so shocking,” he says. “I’d just turned 20, and none of my relatives had ever had cancer.”

Andrew’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment

Andrew came to MD Anderson, where he began receiving the drugs ponatinib and blinatumomab under the care of Elias Jabbour, M.D. That chemotherapy combination put Andrew in remission within a month, but he has continued to take those medications to ensure that the cancer is gone. Andrew will get his last IV infusion of blinatumomab in August 2019, but will continue taking one ponatinib pill a day for at least the next five years.

In the meantime, he’s not letting his acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment slow him down. “I only played a few more games last year before redshirting for the season so I could rest,” he says. “But I started playing again last fall, and this is the best I’ve felt in a while.”

What Andrew appreciated about MD Anderson

One thing Andrew really appreciated was the opportunity to exercise and practice on the basketball court in MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital.

“I had a PICC line, so I’m still able to work out and play,” he says. “And Kim’s Place was a great place to go when I wanted to get out of my room and relax.”

Andrew also feels like having cancer unexpectedly has enriched his worldview. “It was weird at first, and I didn’t understand it, so it took some getting used to,” he says. “But having cancer gave me a broader perspective of how many people are affected by this disease, especially young people.”

Andrew’s advice for other young cancer patients

Today, Andrew is back in top form and has his sights set on entering the NBA draft within the next couple of years. He credits God, MD Anderson and the support he’s gotten from his friends, family and school for his health and recovery, calling the decision to seek treatment there “one of the best ever.”

He also advises other young cancer patients to manage their mindset and stay motivated with inspirational thoughts. “Focus on the things that you love and enjoy,” he says. “Even when you don’t feel your best. Don’t be defeated. Stay active.”

Register to hear Andrew Jones share his story at MD Anderson’s Young Adult Cancer Survivorship Conference on Saturday, June 1.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.