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Life's Playbook

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Jordan Sabio and Justin Falgoust are like many football players we see take the field every Friday night. They come from football families and fell in love with the game at a young age.

"I've been playing since I was five," says Falgoust.

Sabio was a football natural and often played against kids that were bigger and older. 

"My coach asked, 'What's your favorite part?'" says Sabio. The answer came back, "Hitting people." 

The only thing that came close to their passion for the sport is their knowledge of the game. From park ball in Jefferson Parish to one of the top teams in New Orleans - De La Salle - football was life.

"They're a part of our locker room," says head coach Ryan Manale. "They're a part of De La Salle football. They're a part of our success."

But the fight that the Cavaliers bring to the field doesn't compare to the battles fought by Jordan and Justin.

"When they first told me, I wasn't really scared because I didn't really understand what cancer was," says Sabio.

After what Jordan describes as a pain so intense in his right knee that it kept him up at night, doctors discovered a bone cancer. They told Jordan it was treatable and were hopeful for his return to the football field.

"I really don't even know what I was thinking," says Jordan's mother Julie Sabio. "It's more than words when you hear your kid has cancer."

That's because for an athlete like Jordan, excelling on every field from football to baseball and beyond, it didn't seem possible for anything to sideline him.

"His nine year old year, he actually broke his wrist at practice," says Jordan's father, Kevin Sabio. "He didn't even know. He kept playing with it like that."

That toughness and relentless spirit would be put to the ultimate test in the many months to come. Jordan endured 17 rounds of chemotherapy and what seemed like countless medical procedures.

"I stopped counting after he was put under 20 times," says Julie. "It's been numerous times. He's definitely been through things that people can't even imagine. People think they know what went on, but he had so much more. He's definitely been a tough kid."

"He's stronger than most adults," says Kevin. "People tell us all the time. I don't know if I could have done what he did at 13 and 14 years old for most of it."

Little did Jordan know that during his weeks of treatment, his future teammate, Justin Falgoust, got a devastating diagnosis of his own. 

"They did some blood work, and they gave me some medicine," says Justin. "I went to the regular doctor, and they told me that I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma."

"I think, definitely, the word shock describes what he felt that day," says Justin's mother, Yvonne Falgoust. 

"It was tough because I didn't know if he was going to make it or be around anymore," says Justin's brother, Jonathan. "That scared me. I couldn't imagine life without a younger brother. So it was really tough."

Though diagnosed within two weeks of each other, Justin and Jordan's paths to survival took them in directions no one could see coming. For more than a year, Jordan was in and out of the hospital with procedure after procedure on his leg, all in an effort to get back to normal as soon as possible.

"They did a really good salvage on his leg too," says Julie. "So we were thinking that the outcome would be good. He'd be back to walking around, doing what he was doing before, and then it just kept getting infections."

Despite their best efforts operating on Jordan's leg, the disease had other plans.

"It was either get it over with and amputate it and get running again sooner, or do another year of surgery," says Jordan. "I was like, I would rather just amputate it. I would still be in the hospital right now."

With the tumor removed, Jordan's surgery to amputate his right leg was life-changing. 

Justin not only had to deal with a cancerous cyst in his neck, but doctor's uncovered another dangerous roadblock to getting back on the field.

"My first instinct was, 'Come on, really? Something else on top of what he's already dealing with?'" says Justin's father, Robby Falgoust. "Then after you have time to digest it and think about it, it was kind of a blessing."

Doctors discovered a condition with Justin's back, that if hit hard enough playing football, could cause damage to his vertebrae and spinal cord. He needed immediate surgery as soon as the chemo treatments were completed. And within days of each other, doctors amputated Jordan's leg while Justin underwent an eight-hour back surgery. They were separate then, but together moving forward.

"Me and Justin, we feel close because I know someone that went through the same thing as me, kind of like I have someone that understands what I'm going through also," says Jordan. 

Justin and Jordan are far from alone on their journey. On Sept. 30 of this year as the Cavaliers prepared to face McMain, support from the De La Salle football community culminated in a night that no one will ever forget. As cancer survivors - and as their friends and family call them, champions - Jordan and Justin walked hand-in-hand to midfield as honorary captains. 

On that night, De La Salle not only saluted them for defeating cancer, but brought awareness to childhood cancer everywhere by adding gold throughout the uniform.

"It meant a lot of good things to me," says Justin. " I started thinking about when I had cancer. I just felt shocked. It was a happy moment for me."

"I was pretty excited," says Jordan. "I felt like I was really special, like they care about me and stuff. I'm one of them. That's my family now. That's my brothers. They care for me as I would for them."

As a lifelong friend of Jordan's, sophomore Logan Guerrera asked to trade numbers with a senior to wear number 51, the same number worn by Jordan since his park ball days.

"We know their situations and how hard it's been for them to watch us out there," says Guerrera. "We do it for them as a team."

Now with eyes only looking forward to a bright future, Justin waits for one more medical decision to be made in January to see if he can return to the football field. Meanwhile, Jordan continues to overcome every obstacle, already walking, with hopes of returning to sports and contributing any way that he can.

"I'm thankful that I'm alive and walking again," says Jordan.

"I look forward to hopefully having a great football career if I ever get a chance to play football again," says Justin.

But whether they're given the opportunity to be back on the field or they remain on the sideline rallying with their teammates, one thing will forever remain true.

"It's just special," says coach Manale. "As I said before, it's mental toughness. When we think we're at the point of breaking, we look at Jordan and Justin and know that we can give a little more."

There's nothing that life's playbook can throw their way that Justin and Jordan can't overcome.

If you'd like to donate to childhood cancer research, visit St. Baldrick's Foundation

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