Monmouth’s Kane Gould is out as he can’t beat throw to Mt. Ararat first baseman Jed Zelie during a game Wednesday at Monmouth Academy. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

MONMOUTH — Chemotherapy wracked his body and the aggressive cancer restricted 17-year-old Jed Zelie to a walker or wheelchair, but the deadly disease didn’t strip away his dignity — and passion for sports.

Thanks to dedicated doctors, parental support and a community that rallied for one of its own, Zelie is back on the diamond and taking a swing at cancer from the batter’s box for the Mt. Abram High School baseball team.

Those chemo treatments, along with the relentless lymphoma, temporarily robbed Zelie of his mobility — and took a mental and physical toll on him as well.

“Chemotherapy wrecks your insides,” Zelie, a first baseman and pitcher, said. “It just destroys them.”

The doses of harsh chemo couldn’t dim his desire to get back on the diamond or soccer field — and his devotion to sports explains why he fought the good fight and came out on top. 

“Well, sports was my life and I couldn’t do that anymore and I couldn’t go to school, couldn’t hang out with anybody or do anything, so I was pretty bad, I guess,” Zelie said. 


Baseball is like therapy for the soft-spoken Zelie, who often ended sentences with a subtle smile while talking to a reporter. The spring in his step has returned and the light in his eyes have never been brighter.

“I started working out everyday before I played sports because I wanted to get back to them,” he said. “But sports definitely holds me to a better standard. I also think emotionally it helps a lot. It gets you out there with something to do. Once you get back to sports, it is really helpful.

“When I couldn’t play sports, I was really upset because that’s all I did. I played on Premier AAU sports teams, and anything I could get to, I played.” 

Zelie pointed out that his last treatment was April 25 — and there he was last week, standing his post at first base in a game against Monmouth Academy on May 1. 

“I came out pretty well considering,” he said. “Like last year, I couldn’t walk without a walker or wheelchair. Considering I am playing baseball now, not at full potential, but playing at least.” 



Mt. Abram head coach Jeff Pillsbury and his assistant Lanie Roy welcomed Zelie’s return to the team.

Pillsbury and Zelie have a past that goes back to the days when Pillsbury was the coach of Zelie’s Cal Ripken teams.

“He told me last year at this time he was in the hospital,” Pillsbury said before Wednesday’s game. “He wasn’t walking. He has had a few hits and he will be starting at first base today. “

Pillsbury said Zelie’s presence serves as a constant reminder of what is really important in life.

“I get whining about this and that,” Pillsbury said. “Whenever I catch myself complaining about, whatever, all you have to do is think about Zelie. That’s a pretty good perspective check.

“I said to my wife this year that no matter what happens, we had a great season. He had his chemo treatment during the season, missed a couple of days and he is back at it. I told him if I need to let up on anything, (let me know). He said, ‘I don’t need any favors coach. I am not going to ask for anything.’”


Spoken like a true cancer survivor, who has come to understand life is precious. Zelie relishes being back at the helm of his own destiny.

“So I had him for health this year as well, and he wrote a paper how sports are his passion,” Roy, a Mt. Abram high school teacher, said.  “So it is really incredible for him to be back and play as hard as he does. 

“You know it is a very uplifting story for everybody — very inspirational. I think that the best part of the season is he is back the year.”

Roy confirms baseball had done Zelie a world of good and has been a huge pick-me-up for the gangly junior.

“I think so — for everyone,” Roy said. “I think the whole community was worried about it. Like I said, he is a huge athlete in everything. 

“He is also a very talented at soccer. I think he has a lot of support from his family, community, and he just has a great outlook on life in general, I think. He has a great story to share and very passionate. He is a character.” 



The telltale signs of Zelie’s cancer appeared midway through his freshman year when the lymphoma was discovered in December.

“I went to the doctors four times, but they didn’t know what was wrong with me — and I kept missing school and then they told me to go get X-rays — and that’s when I found out I had it,” he said. “The doctors discovered a really big mass in my chest. It was a fast-growing tumor. I have always been pretty healthy, so I didn’t expect that.”

But he grew stronger and kept thinking about sports and school. He has set his sights on studying mechanical engineering at a four-year college after he graduates next year from Mt. Abram.

“Well, I am more compassionate because I had cancer … and didn’t know anything about it. I guess that changed,” Zelie said. “ Now that I am back. I am super, super grateful that I am able to do it — and there’s a lot of people who aren’t. For me, it is super nice.

“I knew a bunch of people at the Barbara Bush (Children’s) Hospital because I was there so much. So a lot of them aren’t as fortunate as me.  So I am super happy how I turned out.”


During his battle with cancer, Zelie pressed on with his school work and was determined to graduate with the class of 2020.

“When I first got back to school, they asked me to move into honor classes,” Zelie said. “I didn’t want to because I was still going through treatment. 

“School has never really been a problem, but I felt I wouldn’t have come back as well as I did if I didn’t have so many people helping me. The school got me a tutor and he just  gave me work, and I did it and that was helpful, otherwise I would have been a grade behind.”

Zelie looks at his life-and-death struggle with lymphoma as a “good life experience.”

“I know it sounds bad, but when you have it, you gain more compassion,” he said. “You realize how life goes. Also it gives you an idea of work ethic and stuff and how grateful you should be at the things you can do that can so easily be taken away. 

“They told me it was curable, and from that point on, I was like, ‘Whatever I can to  do to get back to being me, do it. I mean my mom (Pamela) was super supportive and she did everything to help me. 

“Also, our community was amazing for me. They had fundraisers. They all came and checked on me while I was in the hospital.” 

But Zelie’s will to make a full recovery and return to a normal life prevailed — and now the easygoing, lanky kid is wearing a baseball glove again.

“Everyday, I just looked for a distraction and tried to get out of a bad situation,” he said. “I mean, it is what it is. I think I handled it pretty well. There was a couple of times when I didn’t think it would go so well, but I had a lot of help.”

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