Etowah High senior kicks cancer, raises money for research

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Gabriel Basaraba was nearing the end of his junior year at Etowah High School when he began feeling unwell.

It started with swelling in his lymph nodes and back pain, and an occasional headache. He visited his then primary doctor and given antibiotics to treat what the doctor presumed was a cold or sinus infection causing the swollen lymph nodes.

The antibiotics did little to treat Basaraba’s undiagnosed illness —stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma.

After a few more visits to doctors when the swelling did not diminish, other symptoms began surfacing. On May 21, 2023, Basaraba experienced a hemiplegic migraine that prompted a visit to the emergency room.

“I thought he was having a stroke,” said Gabriel’s mother Tammy Basaraba. “His blood pressure was through the roof and he was having a hard time speaking. We really thought it was a stroke.”

The emergency room ran tests and determined that it was not a stroke causing Basaraba’s sudden headache and speech slurring.

After that scary situation, Tammy was even more determined to find answers.

Basaraba then visited a new primary care doctor and Tammy was adamant that he received a biopsy of his still swollen lymph nodes.

Basaraba underwent a biopsy and received the news two weeks later. He was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma and almost immediately became a patient at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

Soon after arriving at the hospital, Basaraba had a chemotherapy port placed in his chest and he began his chemotherapy treatments.

Stage 4 meant that cancerous cells had made their way to lymph nodes and was spreading throughout Basaraba’s body, including his spine.

With current methods of treatment, about 70 percent of children diagnosed with the cancer in stage 4 beat the disease and go on to live relatively normal lives.

Bararaba is one of the lucky ones included in that 70 percent figure.

“It was scary when I was first diagnosed but once treatment started I was okay,” Basaraba said.

Basaraba’s family is no rookie when dealing with cancers of the blood. His dad has been in remission for about two years after battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Tammy said the outpouring of love and support from Etowah High School, friends and family and the entire Attalla City Schools system and the City of Attalla has been amazing.

Tammy is an eighth-grade teacher at Etowah Middle School and had to miss several days of work. Other teachers in the district and surrounding districts donated their off days to Tammy.

Tammy and Basaraba had to work with the school to come up with a plan to finish his stellar academic career at Etowah High School on time. After he entered remission on November 7, 2023 and was cleared to return to school, he continued his path toward higher education by participating in dual enrollment at Snead State Community College.

Basaraba never really let cancer slow him down. A few days after his biopsy prior to the diagnosis, he was taking his ACT and making a 34. The score of 34 was one thing he was really hoping and working for.

“That score was God’s confirmation that everything was going to be okay,” Tammy said.

Basaraba had previously scored a desirable 31 on the test, but he wanted to be sure he received a scholarship to Auburn University, so he studied with former Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick and took practice tests.

With a scholarship to Auburn nearly in-hand, Basaraba hopes to attend the university and major in computer science with a focus in artificial intelligence and cyber security.

He has always had an affinity for computers and technology. So much so that fellow students often refer to Basaraba as “a computer,” according to Tammy.

Basaraba’s strength is returning and he is currently hard at work raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) as part of a Student Visionaries of the Year campaign. He was selected to be a candidate by LLS.

Through his cancer diagnosis, Basaraba has become more comfortable with public speaking.

“I was definitely introverted,” Basaraba said. “The journey has made it easier to talk to people. It has helped me come out of my shell and talk to people more.”

Now that he is out of his shell, Basaraba has built a team of friends, family members, teachers and community members to help him meet his goal of $50,000. The money raised will go toward research advanced treatment options and raising awareness for blood cancers.

The fundraising campaign is in its final stretch. Basaraba has until March 7 to raise his funds.

As part of the fundraising journey, Basaraba has held a few events at various locations. His final event scheduled is The Lucky Leprechaun Classic at Noccalula Falls Putt Putt Course on March 2. Registration begins at 10 a.m. and the tournament will last until 1:30 p.m.

Tammy said she is eternally grateful for the friends that have helped throughout the campaign.

“I would love to give a special shout out to Nick Barron, SaraGrace Gibbs and Alivia Bell,” Tammy said. “They will forever have a special place in my heart for all they have done to help us. [Attalla Mayor Larry Means] and the city council are making a generous donation to Gabe’s campaign. All of Attalla and Attalla City Schools have been a true blessing to us. I would also like to recognize Michael Trey Underwood and Sharon Pitts for their very generous donation to the campaign. Sharon’s son, Brian Pitts, lost his battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma nine years ago. They selected to help our family this year due to Gabe’s battle with cancer.”

According to Basaraba, the journey has given him a new outlook on life and he appreciates the smaller things now, like going to school and spending time with friends and loved ones.

In an essay Basaraba wrote for a scholarship application, he stated “Cancer does not define me, but it is part of my story.”

He hopes to continue to share his story and raise awareness, as well as positively impact his community.

For more information on Basaraba’s fundraising campaign, visit https://events.lls.org/al/svoybham24/gbasaraba.

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