After some College of Holy Cross basketball games, there is a parent or child waiting to meet Andrew Keister. They just want to shake his hand and say thank you.
It's a little surreal for the junior basketball player, but it comes with the territory.
Keister, 21, is a cancer survivor.
"Kids and parents meet him and have that hope," his father, Joe, said. "It looks a little bleak to start with, but there is that sunshine."
Andrew Keister was 8 years old when he got sick. Keister had a fever that wouldn't go away and his parents, Joe and Elizabeth, didn't know what was wrong until they took him to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
A bone marrow biopsy revealed haunting news.
Keister had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but to a third-grader, he didn't know what it meant. He only realized it was bad through his parents' reaction.
"They didn't find the results out for a day or so," said Keister, an Absegami High School graduate from Galloway Township. "My parents left the room for three hours and when they came back, they were in tears, hysterical. I don't fully comprehend what happened, but I never once thought not persevering through it. Never not becoming healthy again."
Keister's former youth coaches saw the same determination.
Tom Balmer was his coach on a traveling basketball team for fifth- and sixth-graders during the heart of Keister's treatments.
When Balmer, 52, first met him, he had no idea Keister was sick.
He realized something was wrong when he grabbed his arm in practice one day and Keister quickly yanked it back.
"His father came up to me afterward and told me the reason he pulled back was because he had a shunt in his arm," Balmer said. "I felt so bad I didn't know. I told Joe, 'You wouldn't know he was doing that because he was just like every other kid out there. He worked just as hard as everyone else."
That attitude is still there now. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward made his first start for Holy Cross on Dec. 27 last year as a sophomore and has been a starter since.
After seven games this year, Keister is second in scoring (11.9 ppg.) and first in rebounding (8.3 rpg.) for the Crusaders. Keister is naturally progressing, but the jump happened quicker than expected.
He was a medical redshirt his first year and played sparingly his redshirt freshman season.
However, last year Keister was named to the All-Patriot League first team, averaging 8.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, but his statistics jumped to 12.5 points and 8.8 rebounds in league play. He played in 30 games but started just 17.
He became a force quickly after Holy Cross was hurt by injuries in the frontcourt.
"As the year went on, I started getting more confidence and everything slowed down for me," Keister said. "I
was really thinking the game through and using my strengths on the court to be a value to the team."
When Keister was sick as a child, he continued to play soccer, basketball and baseball even though he went through cycles of treatment for 42 months. Football was the only sport his parents didn't want him in because the chemotherapy made his bones weaker.
In three years of chemotherapy treatment where the chemo was put directly into his spine, Keister missed one basketball season as a child. He has been in remission since May 2000.
"Tom (Balmer) was really good for us. He knew everything going on with Andrew," Joe said. "(Andrew) would throw up the whole way home after running around and playing on the court. We got great support with other family members on the teams."
There were times he struggled on the court, but even at 9 and 10 years old, there weren't many who doubted Keister's resolve.
"His dad always said to me he knew it was going to be a challenge," said Bob Edmunds, Keister's former AAU coach. "He made him have everything a kid his age would get. He never got special treatment and that paid great dividends as he got older."
Keister is very methodical in everything he does. Every decision he makes is well informed and he wants to ensure the best outcome no matter what path he takes.
When colleges recruited him, Edmunds remembers Keister didn't just say, "I want to play in the NBA", as are the dreams of many young athletes. Instead, Keister had a spreadsheet of his college choices with pros and cons listed for each school.
He chose Holy Cross, located in Worcester, Mass., based on the basketball experience, education and opportunities it would afford him after graduation.
Keister wants to take the most successful route that gives him the best chances to succeed.
Something he learned as a child with cancer.
"I don't wake up every morning and remember, but there are moments when I come back down to earth and think about what I went through when I was a child," Keister said. "It's definitely something you can't ever forget. I don't harp on it. I don't want people to feel sorry for me.
"I think I owe a lot to the experience for the character I have. Everyone goes through rough times in your life. It's how you deal with them that shapes you into the person you are."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj: