In many ways, Macy Fowler could be mistaken for a typical 15-year-old Ravenwood High School freshman. She's cute, athletic, feisty and loaded with energy, just like her cheerleader friends. What sets her apart is that she's a starting linebacker for her freshman football team. So does her attitude and determination to defeat her B-cell lymphoma cancer diagnosis.
"I believe everything happens for a reason," Macy told Brentwood Lifestyle after recovering from her first treatment for cancer in early December. "I try and keep a positive attitude regardless of the circumstances, and fighting cancer is no different. Like a football game, you've got to prepare for battle and leave everything you have on the field for four quarters."
Macy's mom and dad, Stacy and Ryan Fowler, know all about their oldest daughter's stubborn determination. "She takes the time to do things right and pays attention to details," explains Ryan. "Those lessons and her fighting spirit are important in any endeavor."
Exactly how does a teenage girl find the will and skill to excel in a male-dominated sport?
Having a dad who played professional football doesn't hurt. After a standout career at Duke University, Ryan spent five years in the NFL, including stints with the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans.
Following in her dad's footsteps, Macy began her gridiron career in the fifth grade with the Brentwood Blaze. Except for one season, she's played either tight end, guard and linebacker each year. She began this season as a starting linebacker for the Ravenwood Freshman football team until back pain led doctors to discover the cause.
"Macy's tough as nails; tougher than you and me," explains Ryan. "She complained of a minor thumb injury before we found out the bone was broken in half. That injury didn't bother her at all. Then she started complaining of back pain. When she woke us up in the middle of the night, and I suggested a trip to the ER, she didn't object. That's when I knew my girl was hurting."
Initial tests in late September were inconclusive. It took weeks before a team of doctors settled on her diagnosis. That's when the family switched their focus from training to defeat another football team to whipping the enemy invading her athletic frame.
Few experiences at any stage of life prepare people for a cancer diagnosis. When teenagers come face-to-face with friends dealing with significant medical complications, often, they don't know how to respond. Macy announced her news to friends on social media, not knowing how they would react. The outpouring of love and support is nothing short of overwhelming.
"The Brentwood community is special. It really is," Ryan says, with emotion in his voice. "I can't think of any place that rally's so quick to support each other. The special part of this story isn't Macy's diagnosis or our family, but the community we call home. We wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Realizing that Macy's treatment schedule would interfere with her Dec. 5 birthday celebration, Stacy and Ryan began organizing an early surprise party. One of the first calls they made was to Christian Taylor. Their daughters played softball together, and Ryan remembered Christian ran a professional photography business. Ryan wanted to know if his friend would bring his camera along to record the day.
"I jumped at the chance to photograph her party," says Christian. "Afterward, I suggested to Stacy and Ryan that I shoot Macy with a couple of football players. The session was beyond my expectations. The camaraderie between Macy and the boys is amazing. Not only is she a beautiful young lady, but her spirit is as tough as nails, and she's always a fierce competitor."
One of the players in the photoshoot is Junior Colson, a senior linebacker on the Ravenwood Varsity squad, who will soon be playing for the Michigan Wolverines. He and Macy have been close since the eighth grade.
"Macy's like a sister to me," Junior says. "She's an amazing kid with an incredible work ethic. When I slack off and get lazy during a workout, it's Macy that's pushing me to finish strong. She and Coach Fowler have been there for me. Now it's my time to be there for her."
Support for Macy also extends the Raptors crosstown rival. One of Junior's best friends is Brentwood High player Walker Merrill, who will continue his football career as a Tennessee Vol.
"I didn't personally know Macy, and learned about her story through social media," says Walker. "When Junior called and invited me to the photoshoot, I immediately said yes. Even though we're fierce rivals, Brentwood comes together as a community. Everyone is pulling for Macy."
If that wasn't enough, Macy received an even bigger surprise at a late-season varsity football game. Lime green is the support color for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. To the freshman linebacker's delight, many of the players sported socks, wristbands and helmet decals to support their sidelined teammate.
"It was so cool walking into the stadium and seeing the Raptor statue in a lime green, #MacyStrong tee shirt. That means a lot to me. The team also made #RaptorFast, MacyStrong bracelets to raise money for my treatment. It was a huge surprise and lifted my spirits," she confirms.
While working out and training creates lots of bonding time for Macy and her dad, don't think that her mom gets left behind for a second.
"Ryan played football, but I'm the one who watches games with Macy," adds Stacy, laughing when asked if she felt excluded at times. "I grew up a huge Tampa Bay Bucs fan and loved watching games with my dad. We obviously enjoy doing 'girl things' together, but watching football together is special."
Besides Macy, Stacy and Ryan Fowler have another daughter, Ella Grace, who is 12. When asked if her younger sister is following in her football footsteps, Macy giggled. "Ella Grace is a competitive dancer, so we're not exactly carbon copies of each other. I love her dearly, and she cheers me on every day!"
Moving forward, Macy faces six rounds of treatments, 22 days apart.
"It's not like I've stopped training!" a determined Macy interjects. "Although my energy level may be down at times, I'm going to lift as much as I can. That's OK because I hate cardio."
Besides playing football, Macy misses seeing her friends. "I enjoy hugs -- they're my favorite thing, and I plan on hugging everyone I can when this is all over. In the meantime, I'm going to smile and fight through this period."
After her football career ends, Macy wants to become a sports medicine physician. Judging from her competitive spirit and raw determination, any athlete will be lucky to come under her compassionate care.
Stacy and Ryan want to extend their thanks to everyone who has supported their family, including words of encouragement and financial support.
Macy will receive the transformational power from Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee team members, who grant life-changing wishes for children facing critical illnesses. At press time, Beth Torres, Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee president/CEO, says Macy was just getting started with the team to design her wish. To become involved in wishes, visit Wish.org/MidTN.