Emporia High School freshman Austin Moore is fast.
A member of the varsity cross country team at his school, he loves to run. He’s the only student on his grade level who ran with the varsity team last fall, and this year he accompanied them to the state meet.
Now, however, he’s in the process of outrunning cancer.
Austin wasn’t up for talking after his return home from a recent trip to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, brought on by a high fever he and his parents couldn’t get under control.
His dad, Daren Moore, had a few things to say about the battle his son just embarked on within the past month and a half or so.
Austin was diagnosed Jan. 11 with large cell anaplastic lymphoma — a rare form of cancer with which, according to Daren, only about 1,700 people have ever been diagnosed.
“It’s more common in boys under 20 years old,” Daren said.
The problem was first spotted during winter cross country practice.
The group had been out for a November run when Austin came home complaining of a lump in his left groin. His coaches thought he’d pulled a groin muscle in his leg.
“He just had a little knot there,” Daren recalled.
The spot was sore, but not world-endingly painful. They were told to watch it for a few days, under the assumption that it would go back to normal sooner rather than later.
“We went on with that for about a month,” Daren said. “No other problems, it never really hurt.”
But the lump never really went away. It was a swollen lymph node. Though they didn’t know it yet, the node was filled with cancer.
Then, right after Christmas, Austin showed signs of illness. It started with low fevers. The day after New Year’s, the fevers skyrocketed. From then until about Jan. 15, he ran fevers of about 101 to 103.
“That’s when everything really got serious,” Daren said.
In the beginning, he said, doctors were treating him for “cat scratch fever.”
“They thought that he had a scratch of some sort on that side,” he said.
Doctors removed and biopsied the swollen lymph node, which is how they realized Austin had cancer.
“It was pretty rough,” Daren said. “I mean, there’s the shock and then there’s relief.”
Relief, he said, because they now knew, after two weeks of worry, exactly why their son was sick.
“At the same point, it was devastating to know that he had it,” Daren said.
Doctors caught the disease fast — within two to three months of the onset, according to Daren. But the cancer is in Austin’s marrow, meaning it’s stage four. Thankfully, it’s not in his blood or his spinal fluid, according to Daren, but neither ‘stage four’ nor ‘cancer in the bone marrow’ are enjoyable phrases to hear.
“They said there’s nothing we could have done and nothing you could do and nothing you could have changed,” he said.
It’s an aggressive form of cancer, but Daren said he’s been told it’s highly treatable via chemotherapy.
It has been a rough process. In roughly a week and a half of illness, Austin has lost about 30 pounds, some of which he’s started to put back on. Months ago, Austin ran between three and five miles a day, according to Daren.
“He’d be good to run across the street, right now,” his dad said.
It has helped, though, that Austin was in such good shape before his illness.
“They said his heart was super strong,” Daren said. “That helps with everything.”
Cancer and chemotherapy both take a lot out of a person.
The disease and its treatment have wreaked havoc with Austin’s immune system, which Daren believes is what caused his son’s recent bout of fever.
The fevers characterized with this disease are a persistent and serious issue. High fevers require quick, careful treatment for Austin, who must be immediately taken to the ER and then transferred to Children’s Mercy via ambulance, after which he’ll end up quarantined.
“You keep a full tank of gas and a bag of clothes and stuff packed, because you never know if you go how long you’re gonna be gone,” Daren said.
He’s been undergoing chemotherapy in pill form — trial treatment, according to his dad. Just this week, he started a second round — this of the liquid variety.
The pill variety, Daren said, is “supposed to have a lot better chance of getting it the first time.”
Doctors are treating this condition by shooting chemo drugs into Austin’s bones every time they pull a sample of marrow from him. He has a port in his chest as well, with two access points.
“They actually shoot some chemo back through the same needle they pulled the bone marrow out of to try to kickstart the treatment or whatever,” Daren said. “He gets five days of chemo at the hospital and then he comes home for 14 days and then he’ll go back for five more days.”
It’s a 21-day cycle, Austin’s dad said, one which his son will need to go through six cycles.
“That’ll hopefully take care of everything,” Daren said.
This process started only a few weeks ago, he said, and Austin only recently began losing his hair. Instead of letting it fall out slowly, he and his family chose to just cut it.
In a gesture of solidarity, his dad has also shaved his head.
“Me and him both got a haircut,” Daren said.
Trips to the hospital notwithstanding, all this hasn’t kept Austin from his studies. He’s still attending classes at EHS.
“They want him to go to school if he can, if he’s up to it,” Daren said. “But the biggest fear is, going to school and getting the flu or any kind of sickness, because his immune system’s so low and anything in the world can get him right now.”
The cross country team at the high school is working to put together a 5K to benefit the Moores. A charity disc golf tournament will also take place for Austin this March.
It’s going to be a long race.
But he has a bunch of people to help him along the path, taking it one day at a time.
“You do what you can,” Daren said. “You just want them to get better. That’s the main thing.”