Staying Healthy: Pleasanton student-athlete works to get back on the field after cancer

Sports Performance Institute helps teen recover after brain tumor

Joseph Andre (right) was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 13. Two years later, he continues to rebuild his strength with the assistance of his trainer Tony Carrera. (Photo by Nancy Andre)

When Joseph Andre was diagnosed with a large mass of medulloblastoma -- more commonly known as a brain tumor -- on his brain stem at 13 years old, he was forced to place his budding baseball career on hold while he underwent treatment.

But after six weeks of radiation, 13 months of chemo and a nearly daylong surgery, the now 15-year-old athlete is ready to pick up where he left off and return to the mound, thanks in part to tremendous personal effort and a diligent training regiment provided by San Ramon Regional Medical Center's Sports Performance Institute (SPI).

"I know I'm gaining in strength because each session I gain a little more weight to lift," he said after taking personal training and conditioning sessions with SPI for about six months.

A Pleasanton resident, Joseph is a freshman at De La Salle in Concord and an avid Bay Area sports fan. He's also currently playing as a center in the Pleasanton Youth Basketball League through the city's Recreation Department, and he plans to try out for his high school baseball team in the spring.

"The first couple weeks of training he went he could hardly do anything, and now (his trainer) tells him 'You're up to a normal work out and we're going to start pushing beyond,'" his mother Nancy Andre told the Weekly.

Joseph's current physical condition is quite the accomplishment considering where he was just two years ago.

Nancy first noticed something may have been wrong in September 2016, when Joseph, usually a coordinated young athlete, started to lose his balance and experience dizzy spells. These symptoms, along with Joseph's headaches and sudden vomiting without warning, convinced her to take him to the doctor where the tumor was found.

Joseph and his mother temporarily relocated to San Diego where he underwent proton radiation, a rare type of treatment only available in select places in the country.

His prognosis took a more positive turn after a successful 18-hour surgery just six months ago, but his body had lost all muscle tone and stamina as all of his strength was dedicated to fighting for his life.

Around that same time, last June, Joseph began training sessions at San Ramon Regional at the recommendation of a family friend, an experience that has greatly improved not just his physical strength but his overall outlook as well.

"Joseph's posture has come up, his chest is pushed out and his self-confidence has increased, that's all on him. I just give him a program to follow and he does it all. He's such a good kid and hard-worker. It's been an honor to train Joseph," said Tony Carrera, a personal trainer for the Sports Performance Institute.

Now Joseph attends hourlong sessions twice a week, where he works on strength and conditioning, with Carrera's guidance and positive reinforcement helping push him along the whole way.

"I think what makes this experience special is Tony, and the personal relationship that Joseph and I have developed with this guy who is so positive and just down to earth and encouraging," Nancy said.

A certified Titleist Performance Institute trainer and a Nesta personal trainer, Carrera has more than 20 years of experience in training and coaching youth and adult athletes. He primarily works with golfers but represents a huge range of athletes that he says vary in age from 7 to 78.

"I enjoy working with Tony. He has become a friend and family member," Joseph said, adding that his trainer's positive reinforcement and attitude have helped push him to find his higher potential.

"Joseph has taught me to not take life for granted, because you just don't know what's

going to happen tomorrow," Carrera said of his young trainee. "Joseph is a great kid, with a good attitude and (has) a lot of determination and his family is very strong. What they have gone through, they are very loving and a very strong family."

Drawing from one of the most iconic players on his favorite teams, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, Joseph told people who may be going through a similar situation to, "Just take it one day at a time."

"I met (Buster) during treatment and that was his advice from when he broke his ankle," Joseph said, adding that a local organization called Sunshine Kids facilitated the meeting. "Just keep persevering and just keep fighting until it's done because there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

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