Chemotherapy has barraged his 17-year-old body with toxins, but a different kind of barrage has infused Brandon Bourage with love.
More than 400 students and staff and other supporters gathered on the Chattahoochee County High School football field Thursday to show their support for the senior who was diagnosed last month with a rare form of bone cancer.
As friends pushed Brandon in his wheelchair onto the field, business and computer science teacher Tanya Morgan marveled at his popularity after moving to ChattCo two years ago from Virginia.
"He's got the most upbeat, positive attitude," said Morgan, who also guides Brandon as the school's Future Business Leaders of America chapter adviser. "There is not a student out here who does not know him, does not love him, does not care about him.
"The whole student body is behind him. We're going to be with him on this journey. He looks at it as a journey and not as a fight, and I believe that's why he's going to get well. He's got the most positive attitude of any young man you could ever meet."
That's why seniors O'Nisha Smith, Jodie Duke, Brittany Harris and Kayla Morton asked Morgan three weeks ago whether they could design and sell T-shirts to raise money for Brandon's family and help them pay for the cost of traveling to Atlanta for his cancer treatments.
After selling 258 of the T-shirts for $10 each in only one week, plus other donations, the group raised more than $900.
"It just shows our community is here for any person, not only him but anybody," O'Nisha said. "It's a small community but we're all together."
That's why the back of the T-shirt declares "One (heart shape) Beat" and "Team Bourage," along with the No. 3 he wore on the football team. The front of the T-shirt carries the message "Keep Calm and Kick Cancer."
"Not only him, but everybody should stay focused, stay strong, be calm about it," O'Nisha said. "Kick cancer, because (the cancer is) by his hip, and we're telling him to fight it and kick it away."
Brandon was a wide receiver and strong safety on the football team. What he thought was an injured left hip this past season turned into a cancer diagnosis last month.
The cancer has sidelined him from the track team, but he still is on track to graduate despite already missing a week of school for chemotherapy. He plans to attend Troy University and major in sports medicine.
"That way, if I can't make it back to the field," he said, "I want to be close to it and help other people."
The chemo has given him nausea, a metallic taste and ringing in his ears, but it hasn't taken his hair yet and, he insists, it never will take his hope.
"They say if (the cancer) shrinks up to 90 percent by the first week in June," he said, "that's when I'll have my surgery to remove it. Then they'll do some follow-up treatment, more chemo, to get it out 100 percent."
The folks who bought the T-shirts formed a heart shape at midfield, and the rest of the supporters formed the "heartbeat," a jagged line to depict an electrocardiogram. A photo of the gathering will be framed and signed as a graduation gift for Brandon.
"It's just overwhelming for everybody to be so supportive and loving," Brandon said. "I can't be more grateful."
Brandon's father, Ivory, a sergeant major at Fort Benning, said the generous gesture makes him feel "like we can tackle anything."
Brandon's mother, Kathy, a teacher at Fort Benning, said, "This is an awesome group of kids."
Jodie, one of those awesome kids, returned the compliment. He noted Brandon is simply receiving the love he has been giving.
"He keeps me up," Jodie said. " Everybody feeds off of him."
HOW TO HELP More T-shirts will be made and sold to help Brandon Bourages family pay for traveling to Atlanta for his cancer treatments. Call the school at 706-989-3678 to place your order by April 11.