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ADAM HIMMELSBACH: Eagles’ Jones proves courage is what’s beneath skin
Ali Jones isn’t one to lie out in the sun or cram into a tanning bed.
Whenever the Washington & Lee High School senior used to go outdoors, her parents would smother her with suntan lotion the same way you smother a burger with ketchup.
So when Ali noticed a flesh-colored bump on her right arm two years ago that was the size of a pencil eraser, she thought little of it. She pointed it out to her doctor, who said it was probably nothing, but encouraged her to see a dermatologist just to be sure.
She pointed it out to her dermatologist, who said it was probably nothing, but encouraged her to have a biopsy just to be sure.
And then Ali was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma, an advanced version of the deadliest form of skin cancer.
“It was like a cold wave hitting you right in the face,” said her mother, Patti Jones.
Ali’s first reaction was a flood of tears. But after she gathered herself, after she realized what she was up against, she looked at her mother and said she would get through this.
Part of her treatment involved surgery and chemotherapy. But another important part involved volleyball.
She returned to her favorite sport last fall, soon after treatment ended, and she was an inspiration to her teammates and her community.
Ali, who is now cancer-free, recently received the Virginia High School League’s Andrew Mullins Award for Courageous Achievement.
“At first, my doctor told me I might not be able to play volleyball,” she said. “But I refused to believe him.”
Ali underwent surgery to remove the growth, and doctors also removed one lymph node from her right arm.
She tried to return to the volleyball team as a junior, before she began her chemotherapy regimen, but she wasn’t able to swing her arm the way a volleyball player needs to swing an arm.
She spent that September undergoing chemotherapy at the University of Virginia Medical Center. After she was released, her mother administered daily shots.
Ali was often tired and dizzy and nauseous. She lost weight and she began to lose her hair. It also became difficult for her to concentrate on anything, especially schoolwork.
But even in these difficult times, Ali was thinking about others.
Before she began to lose her hair, she had much of it cut off to be donated to “Locks for Love.”
When she was hospitalized, she noticed all the small toiletries in her family’s hotel room that went to waste.
So she started a campaign at Washington & Lee in which people brought in their unused hotel toiletries, and Ali repackaged them to be distributed at a domestic violence shelter.
As her chemotherapy treatments wound down last summer, Ali turned her focus to volleyball.
“I missed playing, because it was like a stress relief,” she said. “I really just
wanted to get to feeling healthy again.”
She went to a few volleyball open-gym sessions during the summer, and in the fall, when her chemotherapy treatments were finishing, she returned to the team.
It was a struggle at first. Her strength had been sapped and she was out of shape.
“Sometimes at practice she would get so upset she couldn’t complete the conditioning drills, and she’d break down and cry,” Eagles coach Drew Hutt said. “And you’d just melt.”
But Ali pressed on. She was named a team captain, and she played as much as her body would allow.
During the season, the Eagles organized a melanoma awareness night. They wore black T–shirts and black wristbands, and they had a face to attach to their cause.
“When you see a person in the game who’s going through that,” Hutt said, “it makes people pay attention. She’s inspired everybody.”
Ali still stays out of the sun, and when she is outside with friends, they often make sure she’s covered with a coat of sunscreen.
She knows that many teenagers don’t take similar precautions. She knows how they love a nice tan.
But she urges everyone to be careful.
“Get checked out,” she said. “I didn’t think the spot on my arm was anything, either. People should get checked out.”
Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442