Prep Baseball Report

Joe Skinner Remains Strong Through Cancer Battle

By Nathan Rode
National Supervisor

At a game in mid-March, 3B Joe Skinner (Bishop Moore Catholic HS, FL) was lively and energetic, the first one in line to hand out high fives after a teammate scored a run. Without any background, he would have appeared as just another good teammate, supporting his peers on the way to a victory. But he wasn’t on the field and he wasn’t in uniform. A Central Florida recruit, Skinner was supposed to be in the lineup, playing his final high school season, but it became apparent in the fall that was unlikely.

Skinner was going through his usual offseason regiment when he started having a hard time getting through what used to be routine.

“I was just going through workouts and hitting and stuff,” he said. “And I couldn’t finish. I was getting tired all the time and dizzy.”

He went for his official visit to Central Florida and wasn’t feeling right, saying he wanted to go home. He went to urgent care, which sent him to his primary doctor, who sent him to get blood work done. After the blood work, he was told to go to the emergency room.

That’s when he received the cancer diagnosis. Everything was laid out for the family. The next step, what to do. For a 17-year-old, or anyone for that matter, it can be a lot to take in. Ever the competitor, Skinner was ready.

“Let’s get this cured and get back to normal life,” he recalls thinking. “It didn’t really hit me at first. It took a while to settle in. At first, I just thought it’s something I’ve gotta deal with. Beat it and move on.”

Skinner was admitted to the hospital for two weeks. At first, he was diagnosed with B-cell leukemia, which is the most common in children and there is a high success rate after three years of chemotherapy. But after genetic testing, doctors discovered he had hypodiploid, a subgroup of leukemia. He went through regular treatments, some of which didn’t go well and adjustments had to be made. The plan was to do a bone marrow transplant, but he didn’t go into remission.

There is a clinical trial going for people in Skinner’s position and he traveled to Dallas for tests. He’s been accepted into the trial, but that is currently on hold because of some recent complications.

His mother, Judy Skinner, says they hope things can begin in the next couple weeks.

Endless Support

Early in the process, a doctor told Judy Skinner that people would want to help and she had to let them. It’s their way of coping. As expected, the support came flooding in.

“We’ve never lived around family so we’ve always relied on the four of us so we’ve always taken care of the four of us,” she said. “This time, the support from friends, the school, the baseball team—it’s just been amazing.”

Skinner’s core group of friends on the baseball team—RHP Mike Giordano, LHP Rigsby Mosley and C Eric Forbick—got together to start raising money for charity. They made bracelets for friends, teammates, family and fans to wear. T-Shirts were made with head coach Tony Mehlich’s face on it and there was a charity walk. The Skinners didn’t think they were in a position to accept donations for the family, so proceeds have gone to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and things that help kids in Skinner’s position.

Money helps, but moral support is important too and Skinner had plenty of visitors in the hospital. The Central Florida coaching staff came by. Giordano found a way to get Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo to call Skinner. Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, went through six months of chemotherapy and was back to living a normal life that fall. Another cancer survivor, former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, also called.

“It’s been great support so far,” Skinner said. “Everyone has been behind me, helping me in any way they can, just being there for me. It’s been really important to me and helped me stay strong throughout this whole thing. It’s something you can’t go through alone and it’s really important to have people behind you.”

And Skinner has done his best to return in kind. He gets to as many games as he can, supporting his teammates. He’s even been able to sneak in a couple of at-bats. The Skinner family as a whole has remained strong throughout, taking the adversity head on.

“As a parent you do whatever you have to do to help your kids,” Judy Skinner said. “It’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy. If you could take it away, you would. We just try to support him. He’s been so strong. He knows he’s going to get through this and we know he’s going to get through this. We just do whatever we need to do. Get him to the doctor’s when he needs to get to the doctor’s, make sure he’s taking his medicine, whatever it takes to keep him as healthy as possible.”

Skinner is especially close with his sister, Molly, who is a student at South Florida. They communicate constantly and she gets home when she can.

Though his involvement in the clinical trial is currently on hold, Skinner presses forward. He is on track to graduate, as he’s been doing work online and arranges to take tests and get help from teachers as needed. If the last six months are any indication, nothing is going to keep him from doing whatever he can to win this battle.

There are many kids going through the same experience as Joe Skinner. Please consider donating to organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation or the Children’s Oncology Group. Also, sign up to be on the bone marrow registry with Be The Match. It’s simple and can help save a life.