High school senior faces cancer’s
Rare disease doesn’t stop George Linev,
who wants to travel
By MICHAEL AMES
Express Staff Writer
George Linev is a busy guy.
It was 7 on a Saturday night when I first
met him. We had attempted earlier meetings, but all were cancelled on account of
George’s full schedule.
George Linev enjoys an outing in
the Sawtooth National Recreation Area a couple of years ago. Courtesy photo
While many high school students were
probably headed out to the movies or to friends’ houses on this rainy Saturday
night in March, George was just readying himself for work.
Just another challenge.
In the spring of 2000, George was
diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of malignant cancer. But this young
man lives his life in defiance of his illness.
George was visibly fatigued when we sat
down to talk. He perked up with some coffee as he prepared for his all-night job
at the nearby Blaine Manor in Hailey where he has been a nurse’s aide for six
He is also a senior at Wood River High
School and manages to balance this rigorous schedule of exhausting night work,
high school and nursing classes through the College of Southern Idaho. Before
his mother moved to Idaho, George lived the first years of his life in Bulgaria.
After his sudden diagnosis three years
ago, George underwent two major surgical procedures that took a physical toll
but didn’t conquer his spirit.
One surgery involved over four specialists
from different fields. Once the surgery was complete, a large malignant tumor
had been removed. Along with this trauma, various areas of George’s abdomen were
cleared of possible metastasized cancer and a "port" had been implanted in his
shoulder to accept the eventual intravenous chemicals of chemotherapy.
For many cancer patients, the treatments
are often as grueling as the illness itself.
As we talked, George reflected on his
radiation and chemotherapy with blunt stoicism. Chemotherapy does,
however, severely compromise a patient’s immune system; George had to leave
school and be tutored at home for extensive periods.
The illness has been life altering in many
ways, especially in terms of George’s athletic life.
For the first time in his life, George was
forced to remove himself from the soccer field —from the game he loves.
"I first met George at indoor soccer in
Hailey. I saw talent and invited him to play on Sawtooth United," said George’s
coach and friend Victor Vandenberg of Ketchum.
Vandenberg describes George as an eager
player who "couldn’t stand to sit out—he just had to play."
But as quickly as George had been invited
to play on the valley’s local club team, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to
do the thing that pained him most. He had to sit out.
Sitting out didn’t mean just warming the
benches for Linev. George was rushed through surgeries and treatments designed
to save his life.
But he never forgot that he was a member
of a team.
The week of George’s second major surgery
was also the week of Sawtooth United’s semi-final game in the President’s Cup
soccer tournament. Despite being bed-ridden following the procedure, George was
determined to make it to the game.
"I didn’t really expect him to make it,"
said coach Vandenberg. "Despite his determination—I was skeptical—it was a
doctor’s decision and it didn’t look too promising."
Assuming George couldn’t make the game,
United’s coach explained the severity of the situation to the team. "You could
tell by the look on their faces that they knew this was more important than any
soccer game—they all wanted to go see George in the hospital—but there was a
game to play."
Then the improbable occurred.
"George beat us to it," recalls
Vandenberg, as surprised as anyone to see Linev walking across the field to
stand with his team.
His mother, Kristin, remembered, "George
said ‘I’m going to this game.’ They got him on the wheelchair but he refused to
use it, so he walked all the way across the field and stood for the entire
Sawtooth United players, inspired by their
teammate, went on to win that game and the tournament.
The tournament gained a new meaning for
the team. Its championship trophy was eventually given to George at the
Living with cancer
The ongoing pain of treatment has become
irrelevant to George. He doesn’t like to talk about his illness and what’s he’s
been through. Instead, he stays focused on facets of his life other than cancer.
When circumstances forced him to sacrifice
his love for soccer, George channeled his passions into music.
His interest and success with the guitar
has proven worthwhile.
George has become an accomplished player
who cites David Gilmore, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Radiohead’s Johnny
Greenwood as influences.
He has ambitions to continue studying
music at a nationally recognized school such as Hollywood’s Musician’s Institute
or Boston’s Berklee School of Music.
Since delving deeper into learning this
instrument, George has played in Embryo7, a local band. He’s also been an
accompanist for a Los Angeles-based band at the "Share your Heart" Ball, a
fundraiser hosted by Rob and Chris Cronin of Hailey earlier this year.
The event raised money for Camp Rainbow
Gold, a summer camp for children with cancer, as well as the Idaho chapter of
the "Make a Wish" Foundation.
A dream trip
Helped by fundraising and even anonymous donations, George and
his family have found the Wood River Valley to be a place of warmth and support.
At one point following that dramatic soccer season three years
ago, an anonymous benefactor donated a trip for George and coach Vandenberg to
go to Chicago to see George’s soccer icon, Bulgarian soccer player Hristo
Stoichkov, who plays with the MLS Chicago Fire.
Earlier this year, yet another act of kindness has generated a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for George.
A still-anonymous member of the community has nominated George
to be part of the "People to People Sports Ambassador Program."
Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this foundation
fosters the communication of children worldwide and offers the opportunity to
play sports and travel in a foreign nation of their choosing.
The program could give George the chance to play at England’s
Old Trafford Field as part of the Liverpool Knowsley Classic Soccer Tournament
this coming summer.
The nomination was enough to show George the warmth of his
community. But sadly, the nomination alone does not cover the costs for the
George has expressed gratitude towards, "the people in this
valley—I know they are very generous," and he hopes that with their help he will
be able to afford this enriching experience abroad.
"Along with the physical damage, the cancer experience leaves
a deep scar mentally on every human being, but especially our children,"
George’s mother has said.
The family hopes that the community will continue its support
by offering monetary donations, of any amount, to the fund established by the
Sawtooth United soccer club at the Bank of America.
Cost of the trip is about $4,000, of which $2,000 must be
raised and paid by late April.
Where to send money
The account is named "The George Linev Fund." Anyone can
donate money with or without offering a name.
The account number is 31567514.
Donations can also be mailed to the family’s address in
Hailey. It is George Linev, P.O. Box 2564, Hailey, ID 83333.