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A love story: Toledo defensive lineman gives up football to tend to fiancee who has leukemia

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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On this Valentine's Day, the Cleveland Plain Dealer delivered a touching story of true, unconditional love.

Ben Pike is a defensive lineman at Toledo. Or, he was on Toledo's football team. He has a year of eligibility left, but he's giving it up to tend to his fiancee, a former Toledo basketball player who battled with leukemia last year and found out on Jan. 25 it had returned.

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Pike has plans that are far more important than Division I football. He is going to graduate after this semester. He is going to marry Ashlee Barrett on June 15. He is going to see her through a bone marrow transplant and her second battle against leukemia.

"I know in some people's terms, he's giving up things," said Ben's mother Becky Pike told the Plain Dealer. "But he's really not giving up. He's not giving up anything. He's really fighting for life. And he's just turned his forces to he's going to win a battle for life instead of winning on the football field."

It's a beautiful story by the newspaper, one with a happy ending that will be written when Barrett has beaten her cancer.

According to the Plain Dealer's story, the two met when Pike was a freshman and Barrett was a junior who had just transferred to Toledo. They dated. On Toledo's trip to Washington, D.C. for the Military Bowl in 2011, Pike worked it out so he could propose to Barrett on the White House driveway.

In April 2012 Barrett had a blood infection that almost cost Barrett her life, the Plain Dealer said. She was diagnosed then with leukemia. Barrett was in St. Louis teaching second grade. Pike made weekly visits from Toledo to St. Louis, even through the football season.

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Barrett finished chemotherapy and returned to teaching for a while, but the leukemia returned in late January. The Plain Dealer said she is halfway through another round of chemotherapy. Pike has a student teaching job at a middle school in Toledo during the week and visits St. Louis and his fiancee on weekends. He plans to move to St. Louis in May, leaving behind the rest of his football career.

"It's a very, very helpless feeling because there's nothing you can do that can make it better or go away," Pike told he Plain Dealer. "The only thing you an do is be there for her 100 percent. The whole way she's handled the first round, going through everything, the way she's handled herself with such grace and beauty and a positive outlook on life. It's been truly humbling. I can definitely say she's my hero."

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