By Nancy Hilbrands - August 22, 2022
At age 5, Alec Barklage developed a passion for baseball the first time he stepped foot on the T-ball field. Growing up he spent hundreds of hours practicing and playing the game, never realizing the sport he loved would one day save his life.
In his senior year, Barklage pitched for Tampa Catholic High School. At baseball practice in March of 2018, the coach had the team run laps. Barklage heard something snap and thought he had torn a ligament in his leg. Instead, X-rays confirmed his right fibula was broken. He was sent to an orthopedic specialist to find out why his bone would break so easily.
That’s when the 4-inch tumor was discovered.
Barklage was referred to Moffitt Cancer Center, where a biopsy showed Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that typically occurs in children and young adults. Thankfully, a positron emission tomography, or PET, scan confirmed that the cancer had not spread.
“Baseball saved my life,” Barklage said. “Had I not been running at practice, my fibula would not have broken to expose the cancerous tumor growing in my leg and leading to early detection.”
The then 17-year-old began seven cycles of chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Once he turned 18, he transitioned to Moffitt Cancer Center.
At Moffitt, Barklage underwent surgery to remove the tumor from the bone. Seven more cycles of chemotherapy followed. His body developed severe side effects to the treatment drugs. Barklage’s mother, Stacey, said the side effects took a toll on her son.
“At some point you begin to wonder what’s worse: the cancer or the side effects of the treatment,” she said. “But of course the only option is to keep going.”
She credits Dr. Damon Reed, Moffitt’s department chair of Individualized Cancer Management and the program leader for the Adolescent and Young Adult Program, for helping to create a treatment plan not only to attack her son’s cancer but also to help with the side effects.
“Alec has impressed me with his ability to take the struggle of cancer and use it to have a wonderful perspective on the world,” Reed said. “He is positively influencing others through his experience by giving them meaning in their daily lives and emerging careers. He continues to be an excellent advocate for cancer patients.”
On the day of Barklage’s diagnosis, former NFL linebacker and Ewing sarcoma survivor Mark Herzlich reached out to encourage the young man. His advice impacted Barklage, and he would echo the athlete’s words many times during his cancer treatment. “Put your mind first and your body will follow.” This is now the same advice Barklage shares with other young cancer patients.
“Your mind is extremely powerful,” Barklage said. “You must stay strong during and after your fight, and always keep a positive attitude. Fight like a warrior!”
Barklage has persevered and has been cancer free for four years. His last scans in May 2022 were all clear.
Since his remission, Barklage has helped several teenagers who have been diagnosed with cancer. He shares his experiences and listens to their concerns, providing a safe sounding board. In his free time, he enjoys fishing, hunting and golf.
Barklage begins his senior year at Florida State University this fall. He is on the dean’s list, majoring in business management and planning a career in commercial real estate.
On Aug. 20, Barklage was recognized by the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field through the Salute to Survivors program. His parents and brother shared in the experience with him, all enjoying the game that saved his life.