Dylan Widiker loves sports. The discipline, camaraderie and courage that go with team sports have carried him through a difficult fight with cancer. In the fall of 2007, Dylan was the running back for his junior high football team. During an early game, he was tackled and injured his right shoulder. The injury seemed serious, so he went to the doctor for X-rays. When his doctor saw a tumor on those films, he quickly referred Dylan to MD Anderson's Children's Cancer Hospital. Dylan had Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
Dylan had surgery to remove his right humerus bone and replace it with a cadaver bone. After the surgery, he was in a full body cast with his arm out at a right andle and was on chemotherapy -- but he kept going to school. In support of their teammater, the whole eighth grade football team shaved their heads! Dylan rarely missed school while on treatment. Since then, he has had surgery on both lungs for about 15 small tumors, because bone cancers often spread to the lungs.
Has this treatement slowed Dylan down or dimmed his love of sports? Not one pitch or touchdown! Football, baseball, track, basketball, even paintball are all favorites. He was released this spring to run sprints and relays and to compete in the triple jump and long lump on the Varsity track team. He practices all of the others with his left hand -- he's even pitching left handed! Now 16, Dylan is a junior at Magnolia West High School in Magnolia, Texas. Evidence of Dylan's popularity is the fundraiser staged by the high school baseball team and held in conjunction with MD Anderson in September, 2009. They raised over $6,000 because they were not playing for themselves -- they were playing for Dylan!
Published Winter 2010: MD Anderson Center: Children's Art Project
The goal for "Put a Cap on Children's Cancer" is for as many teachers, students, businesses, and the community to wear a cap with our Children's Cancer West Ribbon on Sept. 30, just to create the awareness of the problem and raise funds for MD Anderson Sarcoma research. I want the picture of Dylan Widiker handing over a large check to M.D. Anderson so they can continue to search for a cure. There is no actual event (for Sept. 30)... yet.
In my thought process, I wanted to create a positive image of our community that could help change outside perspectives about the people of Magnolia. Not many people are aware of how caring and big hearted the people in this town are.
Since I don't reside here yet, I am aware the news you hear on the outside is oten time negative. I am in the perspective-changing business with my players, in the way they perceive themselves. But I also have to change the way others perceive them.
What better way to do that than to be a part of Something bigger than a game, or even yourself? Some students like math, others hate it with a passion. It's the same thing with English, science and other subjects. All of the students in my class have one thing in common, they love baseball. So I have the pleasure of using the subject to help my students create successful habits they will have for the rest of their lives.
Some say that's what people tell you when they don't win games. I want to win as bad as anybody, and we will win here. But you have to have a plan and a process. Then you have to trust your process and not get caught up in the things you can't control.
We can't control wins and lossess, but we can control our efforts and additudes. If we have the best of both of these everyday, the rest will take care of itself. And when we have a great attitude and exhibit great effort every single day, we have created a successful habit. And what better way to get motivated everyday to create that habit than to be a part of something bigger than yourself. We really want to play for those who can't.
Hopefully, this will turn into an event. With more time to prepare and more people to help, who knows?
Russell Reeder is the head baseball coach for the Magnolia West High School Mustangs. He has started an initiative called "Put a Cap on Children's Cancer," which is a fundraiser for research for Ewing's Sarcoma, which is a form of children's cancer that has affected current MWHS student, Dylan Widiker.
Published September 2009: Magnolia Potpourri (Houston Community Newspaper)
Standing on the sidelines of a junior high football field, a 13-year-old boy shouts his support to his team, a team that has become more like a family than anything else.
Dylan Widiker, of Magnolia Junior High, is blessed athletic ability and a personality that draws people to his side. Despite the cancer that has clung to him, he has shown that through the worst of circumstances he can still carry on with a smile and look to a bright future.
During the team's first football game Sept. 18 against Willow Wood Junior High School, Widiker fell on his shoulder after being tackled by an opponent. It was a textbook play more or less except for the quick lingering pain that ensued. His shoulder swelled up and the next day he was taken to the hospital.
He was first told that he probably dislocated his shoulder and was told to go to Tomball Regional Medical Center for an X-ray. The doctors told him he may have a tumor and the following, after an MRI, the pain proved to be just that.
Seven weeks into chemotherapy treatments (28 weeks in all) Widiker has shown no fear to what lies ahead.
"I thought it would be worse but it's not that bad," he said. "I still get to hang out with my friends. The chemo is not that bad either."
It seems more than anything, friendship is what he depends on and looks forward to the most even through the roughest of days. His love for his friends was returned in a manner that will most likely never be forgotten.
After one of the team's games, more than 25 of his friends and teammates went home that night with Widiker on their minds. With Widiker quickly losing his hair due to the treatments, his friends showed him that he wouldn't be alone during the process. Magnolia Junior High School was stormed that week by numerous students, loyal teammates that shaved their heads.
"I was surprised," Coach Teague Tharp said. "For a kid to shave his head, it's a hard thing. It showed team unity. I was more proud than anything and I'm pretty strict on our dress code. They did it so Dylan wouldn't feel alone. Letting him know that he wouldn't be alone in this battle."
The battle against cancer has just begun for Widiker, but he said his friends show of support has helped him a lot.
"It made me feel normal," he said. "I thought I was going to have a huge head. They made feel better."
Three of his closest friends, Anthony Ojeda, 14, Ryan Moore, 13, and Taylor Parker, 13, have stuck with him in and out of school, on and off the field.
Ojeda and Moore even came up with a way to raise money for him and his family.
"We spent the weekend at (Widiker's) house and we saw a commercial about the LIVESTRONG wrist bands and I thought that was pretty cool," Ojeda said.
They visited the website, ordered their own wristbands and designed them. The wristbands read: "Widiker #2 - Believe." They have since raised more than $1,300. Moore said his family will be hosting a benefit for the Widiker family.
The three said it hurts them just to know that their friend has to go through the situation and that it's even been hard for them to deal with.
"It sucks having one of the greatest kid in the world go through something that bad," Ojeda said. "You think bad things happen to bad people instead of bad things happening to a great person."
On the football field, the change of scenery with their teammate has been a struggle.
"He's like the best player on the team," Moore said.
Ojeda said Widiker is supposed to be on the field more than anyone, but since he can't he's the best cheerleader on the team now.
Even without him on the field, Moore said he has taught them how to be tough.
Tharp agreed that Widiker has been one of his best athletes and one of his best leaders.
"He brings a sense of leadership athletically," he said. "Kids like to be around him. He's got that strength about him, so I believe he'll pull through and compete at the high school level - who knows."
Losing one of his players to cancer was difficult, but explaining the situation to the other players, he said, was one of the hardest things he's ever had to do dealing with students and players.
"We gathered the boys together," he said. "It was one of the most memorable moments in my mind. We showed that as men, you can show emotion. They got to experience that together and grow one step closer to being grown men. They worked together as a team and we came closer together as a family."
Tharp said he tries to keep things as normal and as positive as possible around Widiker.
"I try to run off the days where he is low," he said, "but he's so strong that it seems those days are few and far between."
Widiker said his initial reaction to finding out he had a tumor in his shoulder was the same as any other person. He said he keep his sadness at bay through his friends, family, sports and school.
"I like to have fun with people around," Widiker said. "I do a bunch of sports and I'm kind of smart, but it's kind of hard to keep up because I miss a bunch of days. I do a bunch of hunting and I like to play paintball. The doctors said no more contact sports."
When asked if it meant for just a while or period, he said the latter.
Widiker will be having surgery soon to replace the bone in his arm where the cancer is. At such a young age, he has already been through so much while simultaneously teaching everyone an equal amount. Life's lessons have shown through Widiker and even the minds of his eighth grade counterparts aren't having a hard time learning from him.
"Makes you want to live each day to the fullest," Moore said. "Just be there. Coach Tharp says Carpe Diem."
Tharp's statements to seize the day have apparently reverberated in Widiker's ears.
"I could ramble on about Dylan forever," he said. "The sky's the limit and I don't think cancer is going to keep him down."
Published November 2007: Magnolia Potpourri (Houston Community Newspaper)