The competitive spirit never left UNC Charlotte freshman Charles Hayward, even when he learned last year that he was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia (SI, Jan. 26) and was told he might never play basketball again. Though chemotherapy did not immediately send the disease into remission and a bone-marrow match couldn't be found, Hayward never lost faith. Now, just six months after the diagnosis, Hayward, 20, is alive and apparently leukemia-free thanks to the chemotherapy that eventually worked. Though a relapse is still possible, Pablo Gonzalez, the oncologist at University Hospital in Charlotte who oversaw Hayward's treatment, remains optimistic that the 6'8" forward will be in uniform next season. "I've never seen anybody who didn't have to be hospitalized as a result of chemotherapy," says Gonzalez, "but Charles didn't. He showed none of the serious side effects."
A few weeks into practice last fall Hayward, the most highly touted recruit in UNC Charlotte history, began falling a step or two behind teammates in practice. Tests revealed the disease. Because Hayward had no health insurance, the school raised more than $40,000 for his expenses. Following the diagnosis the 49ers left an empty chair on their sideline with his name and number on it. Hayward went to a few home games, but watching wasn't like playing. "The support was great, but I was just so far away from it all," he says.
Not these days. He plays in pickup games and lifts weights almost every day. "My shot is a bit off right now, but you just wait until I have a chance to work on my game all summer," Hayward says. "Believe me, I'll be ready."