Even when he was on his 150th day in the hospital, Pierson Gibis kept believing.
Even when he was on his 100th chemotherapy treatment, and his 56th radiation treatment and his 40th straight day of being fed through an IV port in his chest, Gibis kept believing.
The Wauconda teenager was certain that one day he would play baseball again.
There were dark days along the way. Really dark.
Gibis was fighting a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma that attacked his muscles, tendons, bones and connective tissues and robbed him of 60 pounds, all of his brown hair, and his entire senior year at Wauconda.
Baseball, and the promise of playing it again, kept Gibis going, kept him fighting, kept him hoping, kept him dreaming.
"Baseball has been my entire life, from the time I could walk," Gibis said. "I remember going to all my brother's games when I was little. My dad played his whole life. I've pretty much lived and breathed baseball my entire life. There is nothing that I would rather do. And it's been my dream to play in college.
"I'd be lying if I said there were no tough days during my treatment process. It took a while for me to accept what was going on. But it taught me how to live and how to fight. And I was fighting to get back to baseball."
Gibis is winning that fight.
Earlier this month, Gibis, a catcher who made the varsity at Wauconda as a sophomore one year before his health issues turned his life upside down, took the first steps on the comeback trail. He announced that he will be playing baseball next year at Madison College, a community college in Madison, Wis.
It's where his big brother Brandon, an infielder and pitcher, played for two years before getting a scholarship to Illinois-Chicago.
"There were days going through this where I never thought it would end," said Gibis, whose entire treatment lasted 68 weeks. "To be on the other side of it is quite an amazing feeling."
The front side of this journey emerged out of left field, so to speak.
After his junior year, Gibis was playing summer ball to get ready for his senior year when he started experiencing horrible back pain.
"I just thought it was from all the catching I was doing. I thought it was sore muscles," Gibis said. "Then it woke me up one night, and I felt like I could barely move. I told my parents that we needed to go to the emergency room right away. I knew something was really wrong."
Gibis was right. Scans showed that Gibis had a tumor in his pelvis and next to his spine and a couple of spots in his lungs.
"It was definitely nothing I was expecting to hear," Gibis said. "I was getting ready to start my senior year and then all of a sudden I'm being told I have cancer."
From the day of his diagnosis on Aug. 17, 2016 to the date of his last radiation treatment on Nov. 24, 2017, Gibis was in the fight of his life.
He endured at least 100 chemotherapy treatments, some that lasted for 48-hours at a time. He had dozens of radiation treatments and spent between 150 to 200 days in the hospital.
At one point, he was so sick from the radiation and chemotherapy that eating was difficult. His esophagus was literally burned from the treatments. So he went a month and a half without putting any real food into his mouth, sustained only by the IV connected to the port in his chest.
The one reprieve he got before his treatments were done last fall, the one chance he got to be a normal teenager, was when he was allowed by his doctors to walk through graduation at Wauconda last spring.
Despite all of his health battles, Gibis was able to keep up with his studies and he graduated on time with the rest of the Class of 2017. When his name was called, he was able to walk up and receive his diploma.
"At graduation, they're always telling everybody not to clap until then end. But when I walked up, the entire student body went crazy," Gibis said. "It was kind of embarassing, but I actually loved it. It was so awesome to be able to do that."
Besides caring friends and classmates at Wauconda, Gibis has had a strong inner circle support system that has included his brother, his parents Jan and Ryan and his girlfriend Gabby Fugle, a former Wauconda student who now plays volleyball at Harper College.
"I've had so much support through all of this," Gibis said. "Without my support system, I don't think I'd be here today."
Gibis is not only here, he's thriving.
A few months ago, he was cleared to start working out again. So in December, he hooked up with trainer Steve Drain out of Pro Player in McHenry. Drain has worked with Gibis on everything from weight-lifting to conditioning to position work and hitting.
Gibis has already gained back 35 pounds. And about a month ago, he started playing in games with his Racine Hitters travel team.
"In my first 2 at-bats, I got 2 hits," Gibis said with a laugh. "I hadn't played in a baseball game at that point for over a year and a half. But everyone is always telling me that it's like riding a bike."
Gibis has certainly been on a ride, and he doesn't want to stop.
He had been out of formal baseball for two years and he was ready to be back. So about a month ago, he contacted his brother Brandon's coach at Madison College.
Coach Mike Davenport knew all about Pierson and his situation through Brandon, and when Pierson called to talk about possibly playing at Madison College, Davenport was all ears.
"To this day, Brandon says that coach Davenport is one of the best coaches he's ever had," Gibis said. "Madison is a good school and the baseball program is really good and they really want to work with you to help you get to the next level. I really wanted to go there and when I started playing again, I knew I had to get in touch with the coaches there."
So Gibis will continue to work out this spring and summer and plans to leave for Madison in August. Stronger and healthier every day, his only noticable physical remnant from his ordeal is the port in his chest that he is scheduled to get removed later this month.
"I know that myself from back at the beginning of all this would be really happy with myself right now," Gibis said. "I'm still dealing with the aftereffects of the chemo and radiation, and the fight isn't over yet, but I am happy with where I'm at.
"You can't be considered cancer-free until five years, but the doctors have told me that I've beaten this. And I'm playing baseball again. I'm happy. Whenever I got down during all those days of treatment, I would always look to this day and now I'm here. I will never take for granted stepping on the field again."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw