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Football a blessing to Farmington’s Afu Fiefia amid 2 years of cancer treatments, tests

By Patrick Carr - Prep Sports Reporter | Sep 29, 2023

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Farmington High football payer Afu Fiefia poses for a photo in September 2023 at Farmington High School.

FARMINGTON — Like many kids in the United States, Afu Fiefia has grown up playing all sorts of sports. Mainly, he’s stuck to football, basketball and track and field.

Of all the sports, the 17-year-old Fiefia said he loves football the most.

“You’re spending hours and hours with each other, like, practicing every single day, then you get together on Friday nights and you go battle against other teams that are putting in work too. I just — everything about it is just special to me … I can’t compare it to any other sport,” he said.

Fiefia has grown a deeper love and appreciation of the sport this year. For the first time in three years, he’s playing full-contact football again as a junior cornerback and receiver at Farmington High School.

Two years ago, then-14-year-old Fiefia was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that has taken nearly two years and two different rounds of chemotherapy treatments to suppress.

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Farmington High football payer Afu Fiefia poses for a photo in September 2023 at Farmington High School.

The only way to know anything’s happened to Fiefia is to look at his lower left leg, which is marked with radiation scarring, which itself looks like an oddly arranged suntan and a cat scratch.

Other than that, there’s nothing outwardly showing that he was given a 15% chance to live beyond five years from his first diagnosis, nor does anything indicate the challenge he’s gone through.

Fiefia has played corner and receiver the whole season for the Farmington football team. He caught a touchdown pass against Skyridge in Week 2 and made some important pass breakups in the Phoenix’s first win of the season last week at Layton.

His perspective on the sport has completely changed in the last two years.

“Before it was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I get to play football.’ It wasn’t really like being thankful for anything just because like everyone — I thought — everyone gets to play football. It’s just part of life, it’s not really a blessing,” Fiefia said. “After going through what I went through, all those rounds of chemo, radiation, I just was so thankful for it and like how much I realized how much it actually meant to me.”

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Farmington High football payer Afu Fiefia poses for a photo in September 2023 at Farmington High School.

Given the nature of the cancer and his initial diagnosis, Fiefia isn’t out of the woods and faces an unknown next couple of years, but he’s not worried about the future. He’s worried about right now, and living life as normally as he can.


Fiefia didn’t discover just how much he missed football until he had to spend two years away from the sport.

At the age of 14, while he and his family were living in Pocatello, Idaho, Fiefia was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that typically starts growing in the bone.

“According to data on children younger than 15 years old, approximately 1.7 children out of (one) million develop the disease,” reads the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ description of the disease.

In the summer of 2021, Fiefia played in all sorts of competitive basketball and 7-on-7 football tournaments, and started feeling pain in his left calf. Then there was more than just pain; there was literally more calf.

BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner

Farmington High School's football team practices in September 2023 at the school.

“It was like 1 1/2 times bigger than my right side, so that’s one of the first things we noticed was the size, how big it was,” Fiefia said.

Fiefia had an MRI in August 2021 and a few hours later, the doctor’s staff called his mother, Celestia, asking the family to come back to the office.

When Celestia, Afu and David Fiefia (Afu’s father) got back to the office, the doctor seemed concerned.

“He was just saying that they could see a large tumor in his leg, and he at that point had already called Primary Children’s (Hospital in Salt Lake City) and sent imaging over to them,” Celestia Fiefia said.

The family had a previously scheduled vacation to Greece, which they still went on for about a week, then came back for initial scans and a biopsy at Primary Children’s Hospital.

Doctors at the hospital told Afu if the tumor was cancerous, they were going to install a chemotherapy port in his upper chest while he was still sedated. If Afu woke up and felt a port on his chest, he’d know he had cancer.

The first thing Afu did when he woke up was feel his chest, and the port, and he started crying.

The news got worse. A full-body scan revealed the cancer had spread in places, including Afu’s lungs, pelvis and abdomen. Surgery to remove the leg tumor was deemed unnecessary because the cancer had already spread.

Eventually, doctors diagnosed it as Ewing’s sarcoma. Judging by the rate at which the cancer had already spread, the chance of survival wasn’t promising.

“We want to know the ins and the outs — the good, the bad, the ugly — so from the get-go, we wanted to know percentages. At that point in time, he was only given a 15% chance to live beyond five years,” David Fiefia said.

In July 2021, before his 15th birthday, Afu was getting ready to play football at Highland High in Pocatello. By the next month, he was routinely at Primary Children’s for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

“It happened so fast. I was, I literally felt like I was living a normal life two weeks ago. I’m doing chemo, I have cancer, just, like, no playing sports, all this stuff,” Afu said.

He had treatments in Salt Lake from August 2021 to April 2022, during which time he’d spend multiple days at the hospital, travel back to Pocatello for a few days, and repeat the process.

There were too many days to count when Afu was in a hospital bed. His first stay in the hospital coincided with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ General Conference in October 2021.

“The thing for me that I found that was really easy to do was listen to General Conference talks and where I could just lay there and listen to it instead of having to read it. Even reading kind of took a lot of energy,” Afu said.

Both he and his parents said their religious faith played a huge part in helping them mentally get through Afu’s diagnosis and treatment, and their faith has grown.

Friends and family showed support for the family in all sorts of ways, from making bracelets to having fundraisers to shaving their heads in solidarity with Afu. David Fiefia detailed Afu’s journey on Instagram as a way to keep everyone updated, and also as a resource for other families researching childhood cancer.

Plenty of times, Afu slept all day with post-chemo fatigue. He found ways to get out of bed when his body would have rather stayed there.

“I feel like it was not letting all those people down. My support system, like following through for them, like they believed in me and I needed to do that for them because … of how much they believe in me,” Afu said.

To stay active and at the urging of his parents, Afu worked out a little bit on the days he didn’t sleep 18 hours. When Afu was in Pocatello after treatments, his parents pressed him to go to school when he could. He’d go, but not every day.

During that time, Afu’s parents changed his diet to somewhat of an alkaline-based, plant-based one but with chicken and seafood, no processed foods, no sugar and very little dairy. They felt it would make him healthier and give him a better chance of survival.

“I don’t eat sugar. I’m not supposed to eat red meat, not a lot of white flour, not a lot of dairy. Yeah, so it’s pretty intense,” Afu said. “I really love dairy, which was hard for me to get used to.”

Afu finished the first round of chemo in April 2022 and a scan showed the cancer was in remission. He was living life normally again, and he was about to move from Pocatello to Farmington after his father got a job as an assistant coach on the Weber State football team.

In July 2022, after returning from a family vacation in Paris, Afu’s three-month follow-up scan showed the cancer had returned — a shock, because there was nothing that outwardly indicated something was wrong. The doctor told Celestia and David on the phone there were spots Afu’s lungs and abdomen.

But, the doctor said, the grave concern was a spot in Afu’s head. Initially, that made Afu’s prognosis very grim: the doctor told the parents that Afu had weeks, or maybe a couple months, to live.

An MRI to precisely locate the spot in his head mysteriously showed nothing. No one knows exactly why, but what mattered to the doctors was they could go ahead with treatment.

Afu did a second round of chemo starting in August 2022 and ending in March 2023, but this time he didn’t have multi-day stays in the hospital since he lived close by. Afterward, he was in remission again.


In June, he and his parents went back to Primary Children’s for a three-month scan.

Afu said he felt different that day and felt better, even though the last time he had a three-month scan, he found out his cancer had recurred.

The doctor walked into the room and told them Afu’s scans were clear.

“It was the best I think that we’ve felt in two years,” Celestia said. “It topped any other good news that we’ve had, there was so much anxiety leading up to it for me.”

There were smiles and tears all around, and Afu already had football on his mind.

“I think that was the first thing I said to the doctor. I said, ‘Can I play football?’ And they cleared me, ‘Yeah you can,'” Afu said. “I was so happy.”

Afu practiced with Farmington this summer and got used to playing football again. His first game was Aug. 11 against Pleasant Grove, and his first play at cornerback was with PG driving around the Farmington 30-yard line.

Afu said he was pretty locked into the game and didn’t stop to think about things until he made his first tackle later in the game.

Earlier that same day, David Fiefia, who coaches tight ends at Weber State, told head coach Mickey Mental he couldn’t go to a team meeting that night since it was Afu’s first game.

In the summer, David Fiefia thought about the juxtaposition of Afu’s last two summers. In 2022, Afu was starting chemo again. In 2023, Afu was going to football two-a-day practices and football camp.

“My wife and I just stay up at night and just — ‘Can you believe what our life was last year at this time, two years ago at this time?’ Just can’t believe,” David Fiefia said.

While David sat in the stands during the Farmington-PG game, he kept seeing people wearing Weber State football jerseys walk into the stadium and realized they were WSU football players. They told David the team meeting was canceled and they were encouraged to go to the Farmington game.

“I don’t know how many guys were there, but the majority of them were there,” David said. “Really special.”


Afu has goals and ambitions for the future. He wants to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after high school in 2025. He said he might want to be some sort of football coach some day, like his dad, whom he looks up to.

There are plenty more future goals in Afu’s mind but, at the same time, he lives life in the three-month periods between cancer scans.

Afu will have a scan next month, seven months after finishing his second round of chemotherapy. He’ll have these scans every three months for the next 2-3 years, then less frequently after that until he reaches five years post-diagnosis.

Afu knows he was given a 15% chance to live past five years. He’s optimistic and steadfast about living, but he’s not naive.

“Him and I and my husband have had a lot of conversations about death and what comes next and … he’s not afraid,” Celestia Fiefia said. “Of course he wants to live, but he’s also not afraid. He’s come to like a really mature understanding of death and what that’s all about.”

Afu’s intent on strictly sticking to his diet and on exercising regularly, two things he and his parents both credit for helping him survive.

Whether the cancer returns or not, Afu doesn’t want to spend his three-month periods thinking about ‘what if?’ He’ll cross that bridge if life takes him there.

Afu’s next scan is two days after Farmington’s final regular-season football game. Until then, there’s football to be played and a life to be lived.

Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.


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