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For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

Staying focused

Hailey teen fights cancer with willpower and help from friends


By PETER BOLTZ
Express Staff Writer

George Linev is an articulate and composed young man with a clarity of perception that comes with fighting a serious illness—cancer.

At age 15, he knows what he wants to do with his life—play soccer.

To this end he knows what he has to do. Beat the cancer, stay in shape, keep his grades up at Wood River High School and prepare for college.

He calls this "staying focused."

Linev, who with his mother came to Hailey from Bulgaria in 1998, was diagnosed in May. According to his stepfather, Robbie Van Alstine, his prognosis is excellent, but to insure that prognosis Linev is undergoing chemotherapy every week, with every third week so aggressive Linev needs to be hospitalized overnight.

Soon after he was diagnosed, the Hospice of the Wood River Valley asked Linev what was really important to him.

When he said he would like a visit by his Bulgarian best friend Deian Milenov, Carolyn Nystrom, director of the Hospice, went right to work.

Nystrom said that arranging for someone from Bulgaria to come to the United States is difficult, but with the help of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and local donors, Milenov visited Linev in August.

Because of the therapy, Linev has suffered a couple of setbacks.

He was unable to go from junior varsity to varsity soccer this year at Wood River High, and to try for a berth on the U.S. Olympic Development Team for 2000 because of debilitating chemotherapy sessions.

But those setbacks have not kept him from realizing other goals along the way to becoming a professional soccer player.

One of those goals was to meet the great Bulgarian soccer player Hristo Stoitchkov.

Linev still vividly remembers the 1994 World Cup when the Bulgarian National Team beat the German National Team. ("You don’t just beat the Germans," Linev said.)

"I was on vacation with my father at the Black Sea," Linev said in an interview, "and we were up late watching the game being broadcast from New Jersey. Everyone in the neighborhood was up."

This was when Stoitchkov became famous, scoring one of two goals in the last seven minutes of the quarter-final game to beat Germany, which had been ahead 1 to 0. Iordan Letchkov scored the other one.

"Everyone went crazy," Linev said. "Everyone spilled out into the streets screaming and yelling until six in the morning."

Stoitchkov now plays for the Major League Soccer (MLS) team the Chicago Fire, and on Sept. 6, Linev got to meet him.

According to Victor Vander-berg, Linev’s coach when he plays for the local soccer club, Sawtooth United, an anonymous donor provided the money for him and Linev to make the trip to Chicago to see the Fire play the Columbus Crew.

Linev was not disappointed with the experience. Before the game, the Fire’s management had Linev down on the field to "slap hands" with all the players.

Linev then got to see Stoitchkov score one and assist in two of the Fire’s three goals to the Crew’s one.

After the game, Linev got to meet Stoitchkov, exchange pleasantries of "Hi" and "How are you," in Bulgarian, and then have his picture taken with the soccer star.

Now that this goal has been met, Linev has his eyes set on another goal, a college scholarship.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation, a group which grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses, is now at work on this.

Linev’s focus is not all on himself. He has managed to give some serious thought about what to say to others like him who are fighting cancer.

His advice: "Stay on the positive side and know you will get through it. Look at cancer as something to go through to make you stronger, not as some sort of punishment."

 

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