By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Calvin Taylor Jr. still marvels at Josh Paschal’s miraculous comeback from a cancer scare.
“He doesn’t even know this, but he’s real influential with my faith and just believing in God,” Taylor said. “He’s living proof that God is real. It’s an amazing story.”
The University of Kentucky teammates became closer after Paschal was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma on the bottom of his foot prior to the start of the 2018 season. More than a year and numerous cancer treatments later, the two players will be on the field together when Kentucky takes on Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl set for noon Tuesday.
Prior to his diagnosis, Paschal became a believer and he credits his salvation for helping him through the initial shock and awe of the cancer scare.
“My faith in Jesus Christ helped me a lot because, without that, I feel like I would have been lost,” Paschal said. “When you go through something like that, your mind starts to wander and you wonder what could happen. Right before that happened, I had recently put my faith in Jesus Christ, knowing I could trust in him with whatever was going on.”
As Paschal began his miraculous comeback, Taylor was helping his teammate fight the battle from another angle — on his knees.
“I never even told him but seeing him go through that, I always prayed for him every night,” Taylor said. “When I woke up every morning, I prayed for him. I always prayed for him. I just really wanted to see him make it through it. That was something that every time it hit home with me and made me stronger in my faith and he’s a great guy. Everybody loves him. That’s my brother and I love him too.”
Paschal said having teammates like Taylor provided a solid support system throughout the entire recovery process.
“He’s my brother and just to have his support his support through everything,” Paschal said. “I realized that God doesn’t (want us) to be alone. He (wants us) to be around a group brothers and sisters and to have a brother like Calvin just to lift us up. … Everything is not perfect. We will have our bad days and when you see people like Calvin and people like other teammates that lift us up and things like that, that’s what got me through everything.
“I didn’t want to bring any energy down in the (program) at all. I wanted to be around my team and to lift them up and give them an example of someone fighting adversity but having faith in Jesus Christ and being able to still be (with them). At the end of the day, I’m blessed to be here and I’m blessed to be saved.”
Paschal and Taylor grew stronger together throughout the entire recovery period because of their involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“God can take you through anything,” Taylor said. “He didn’t bring you through it not to (see) you through it. His faith really brought him through it, because we’re part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I see him all of the time and we do Bible studies and things like that and things of that nature. We did that during (fall) camp a little bit. Seeing his faith grow stronger, it made my faith grow stronger as well. Seeing a guy go through that and not question God, or wavering in his faith or his love for God, that’s really impactful.”
Even though he had made a commitment prior to the start of his sophomore season, Paschal’s plan didn’t align with the next step of his life. It was a plan that took him by surprise, but at the same time increased his faith.
“I had a plan for myself that year, which was to have a great season, but plan isn’t the one that matters, because at the end of the day, Jesus Christ is in control and my identity is in him and not anything that this world offers me, such as sports or anything,” he said. “Just knowing that, I was able to follow the plan that he had for me.”
Even while receiving treatments following his diagnosis, Paschal considers himself fortunate.
“I realized that I was even blessed to have the opportunity to get those treatments, because at the end of the day they are expensive,” Paschal said. “Not many people are blessed enough to have the opportunity to get those life-saving treatments and I was. It’s all a blessing. Even today, I look around and I’m blessed to be here with a great group of guys from both teams, go out there (Tuesday) and realize how far God has taken me in my journey here. Just to be here to have a platform to glorify his name and be on this team.”
Paschal said overcoming the cancer scare is similar to the adversity he faces on the football field but in a much different way.
“Football is a game of adversity and that is like life,” he said. “Keeping God first and he always has a plan for you, always believe in that. His plan is better than my own. That helps me in the game too, just going out there and playing for him. You always have to strive to be like him, I just try to go out there, put my all into it and just play hard. The result is already written and so you just have to go out there and see what the outcome is.”
Much like football, Paschal also learned to take everything one step at a time.
“It taught be patience, because I wanted everything so fast,” he said. “I wanted to get back so fast, but you see how selfish you can get with praying that you forget God’s plan for you. Our plan will be the same as God’s plan, because we’ll have adversity and trials and tribulations, your faith is going to be so much stronger when you come out of it. I trust in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with everything that I have in me.”
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.