Rallying Back; Obeid Breaks Cancer & Looks Forward to Future
BETHLEHEM, Pa. --- A little over a year ago, Libario Obeid '17 should have been preparing for his first semester at Moravian College to study biology and begin a path toward medical school in the future; however, he ended up fighting cancer and putting off the start of his collegiate career until January.
While finishing out his senior year at Allentown Central Catholic High School in the spring of 2012, the former District 11 champion had a physical to get ready for his final season. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary in the physical or chest X-ray he had, and he played his final year.
During that season, Libario noticed he was always fatigued. When April rolled around and Libario was set to attend Moravian, he had another physical, a TB test and more X-rays that didn't show any anomalies. His senior season continued, and Libario was now getting fatigued in mid-match during the District 11 finals.
As the summer passed, Libario was getting ready for college and decided to play in the tennis tournament at Lehigh Valley SportsFest in July. When the tournament started, Libario had to retire during a singles match because he was unable to breath.
"There were times I had difficulty breathing, and I seemed to be doing a lot of coughing but I kept playing, just thinking it might be a cold," Libario said. "The whole summer, I was wheezing and coughing while exercising or even laughing, but all the doctors diagnosed it as severe asthma."
After SportsFest, the breathing issues persisted. Finally, on July 27, 2012, with his chest hurting and the difficulty breathing continuing, Libario went to the hospital.
"The first thing they found out was that my airway was only open the size of a coffee stirrer, and then the chest X-ray showed a tumor that was the size of small baby," stated Libario.
A biopsy the next day revealed that Libario had a stage 4 mediastinal germ cell tumor.
"I was in an ambulance being transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital when they told me it was cancer," Libario said. "It was really tough on my parents to hear it."
Due to the size of the tumor and it being located in his chest adjacent to his heart, the doctors ruled out immediate surgery; the tumor was also carcinoma. The determined course of treatment was five rounds of chemotherapy that was broken into three-week cycles. Each cycle included two weeks of out-patient sessions and during the third week, four days in the hospital with intense sessions.
"The doctors determined that the tumor had become benign after three rounds of chemotherapy, and it was small enough for surgery to remove it," Libario explained.
One of the doctors that worked with Libario during his stays in the hospital happened to be a graduate of Moravian and a former Greyhound tennis player, Dr. Kris McGurrin Rooney '97, who played on the College's women's tennis squad for four years.
Finally, on Oct. 16, 2012, Libario had the surgery to remove the tumor. It had surrounded his heart, and Libario ended up losing part of a lung to fully remove the tumor.
"I was deemed cancer free on Oct. 23, but you are not considered cured until you've gone five years without a relapse," Libario said.
He was released from the hospital on Oct. 25, but ended up fainting at home that evening and heading right back to the hospital. The doctors found fluid around his heart and lungs so Libario underwent another open chest surgery on Oct. 26.
Libario finally went home on Nov. 2, 2012, but had to see his doctors weekly to start and now monthly. He was told by the doctors to listen to his body and rest when he needed to. He was also told that he could begin his college coursework in the spring semester.
Moravian began practice for its spring season on Jan. 20, 2013, and Libario received a letter from his surgeons the day before stating he was allowed to compete.
"Libario had a terrific attitude when we started practice in January," stated Head Coach Art Smith. "He was very eager to resume playing tennis, but he lacked the stamina to practice hard every day. I was amazed at how well he stroked the ball after everything he had been through. He did very little running at the beginning and sometimes need a day or two to rest in between practices. I can remember on several occasions we had to force him to stay out of a drill because he was fatigued. The amazing thing to Assistant Coach Bill Neal and I was that he never complained and pushed himself to get stronger and into shape."
The Greyhounds' first match of the spring was on March 3, 2013 in Orlando, Fla. as the squad played NCAA Division II Stonehill College. Coach Smith limited Libario to just doubles action that day, and he nearly pulled off a win at second doubles with Lewis Cooper '15 as the duo dropped a 9-8 (7-5) match.
Coach Smith planned to slowly work Libario into full matches, but that only lasted one match. The next day, Libario and Lewis won at second doubles, and then Libario won his third singles match in three sets to help the Greyhounds defeat Mount Saint Mary College.
"I was really tired after the Mount Saint Mary match," Libario stated. "I was also excited to be back on the court and playing the game I love."
Libario would finish the Greyhounds' regular season playing second doubles and third singles in every match the rest of the year. He posted a 9-6 mark in singles action, and he was 10-6 in doubles play. After the season, Libario and Lewis were one of two Moravian doubles teams named to the 2013 Landmark All-Conference Second Team.
"Libario had a very good first season," Coach Smith explained. "He got physically stronger each match and played some excellent tennis in both singles and doubles. He was an inspiration to his teammates and coaches. We all knew what he had overcome to just be on the tennis court and to compete at the Division III level was very motivating to us all."
With his health continuing to improve, Libario admits he still not at 100 percent.
"I'm getting stronger every day, but there are times when I still have some trouble breathing," he explained.
While facing the chemotherapy and not knowing what the future would hold, Libario was put in touch with the Dream Come True Foundation. When asked what his wish would be, Libario responded that he'd like to meet United States tennis star Andy Roddick.
On July 10, Libario got his wish. Roddick was playing at Villanova University in a World Team Tennis match. Roddick set up a limo to bring Libario and his family for a brief meeting at the match. The encounter was just supposed to be a chat, but Libario ended up getting Roddick onto the court to hit some rallies.
Libario eventually challenged Roddick to three points on the court. Roddick agreed then Libario took two of the three points they played.
"Meeting Andy was truly a blessing," stated Libario. "He's so humble and down to earth that I completely forgot that I was hitting and sitting right next to a legend for a good six hours. The next day it hit me that I had spent the day with my idol growing up. It definitely motivated to get better, and I realized how hard work always pays off in the end."
Later this month, Libario heads back to the Moravian campus to begin the second semester of his freshman year as well as his second year on the Hoffman Tennis Courts, but he knows that after dealing with all of the events from the past year he can handle anything that comes his way in 2013-2014 and beyond.
"You can either be a survivor of the problems life throws at you or a victim of them it's all a mindset," concluded Libario. "Life taught me that the hard way, but know I realize that I'm blessed and truly pleased it did."