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Rare cancer strikes East football player (Video)

By Taylor Mitchell
Sept. 29, 2012 at 4:29 a.m.
Updated Sept. 30, 2012 at 4:30 a.m.

Matt Dorsett, 17, talks about his struggle with Ewing's sarcoma at his home in Victoria. Matt discovered that he had spinal tumors after his legs started to tingle one day and it slowly spread upward in his body.

The bands played at full blast while the smell of freshly cut grass and hot dogs filled the stands.

The cheerleaders yelled at the top of their lungs, as the fans clapped and cheered for the Victoria East Titans marching onto the football field for the first time in 2012.

As the game played on, one player, Matt Dorsett, kept falling down. While running into coverage from his strong safety position or pursuing the ball carrier, Matt's legs gave out.

Coaches asked him whether he was tired. Hungry to keep playing, Matt told them he was fine.

This was the first varsity game as a starter for the 17-year-old junior. It also would be his last of the season.

The following weekend, Matt had trouble walking. On Labor Day morning, he couldn't walk at all.

"That was really scary," Matt said.

His mother, Blandine Dorsett, took him to the emergency room at Citizens Medical Center that morning. From there, he was transferred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"He had an MRI done later that evening and at 3 in the morning is when they decided to do emergency surgery," his mother said.

What caused Matt's paralysis was Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that involves the bones and tissue.

Doctors discovered Matt had two tumors compressing on his spine, causing him to become paralyzed from the waist down. One of the tumors was on the outer portion of the spine, while the other was inside the spinal column.

"It most often shows up in long bones, such as arms or legs, so it'll often show up as fracture or a mass that people can feel," said MD Anderson's Dr. Geoffrey Kannan, the physician treating Dorsett. "Because Matt's was in his spine he felt symptoms like tingling and numbness in his legs."

Kannan also said the cancerous cells were localized just to the spinal cord and had not spread.

"I was just, 'Oh my God,'" Matt said when he was told about the tumors. "It's just one thing after another."

He already had suffered a devastating emotional blow. About three months before, his dad died of a sudden heart attack.

"Yeah, I thought about the 'why me?' type of thing," Matt said. "My dad passing away and now this, I wondered how much of this I can take. It's just like kind of depressing reaction, but then it's fine."

The surgery was successful in removing one of the tumors, but the one inside of the spine was unreachable.

Matt began chemotherapy to remove the cancer and is scheduled to return to Houston for another round Monday.

Kannan said Matt's prognosis will be clearer after chemotherapy.

"But he's doing as well as we expect him to be doing," the doctor said. "We have to wait and see how he responds. We have high hopes he responds very well to the treatment."

In the process of killing the cancerous cells in Matt's body, the drugs also kill white blood cells that help his immune system fight off infections. The lack of white blood cells makes Matt more vulnerable to sicknesses.

Matt still has to go through six more cycles of chemotherapy before going through his third surgery. His first surgery was to remove the first of the tumors and the other was to insert a port on his chest, located just under the skin, which allows doctors and nurses to administer fluids, chemotherapy and even takes out blood more easily.

"It gets me down a lot," Matt said about his chemotherapy. "Not emotional or depressed, but I just don't want to get out of bed. Eventually, I'll fight through it and be fine for the day."

After that, he'll go through another eight cycles. In all, Matt has 25 more weeks of chemo. If all goes according to plan, Matt could suit up again for the Titans next year.

"When we're done with chemo and if everything goes right, he can go back to doing everything he was doing before," Kannan said.

Along with football, Matt misses his friends because he was forced to leave Victoria East High School because of his weakened immune system.

East senior volleyball player Amber Howell said she misses Matt's friendly greetings.

"It's pretty different without him here," Amber said.

For now, Matt will be home-schooled and is on track to graduate with his class in May 2014. He also still gets to hang out with his friends, but worries about getting sick.

"If I'm feeling a little sick, I'll be too afraid to go out because if they cough on me or something I'll be all like, 'Oh great I'm sick now,'" Matt said.

Even though he's no longer on the playing field or a student at Victoria East, Matt remains a part of the school community and football team.

When Matt goes to a game, he wears his No. 13 jersey and stands on the sideline, supporting his teammates much like they support him every day.

One small sign of support from the entire team made Matt cry - something he hasn't done much of. On the wrists of the Titan players is a small band that reads MD13.

"The whole East and Victoria are there for me," he said. "I'm really happy with that. You have to stay positive for them, and I'm staying positive."

Another sign of support from Matt's high school is what the East volleyball team decided to do for him.

Every year when East and West meet on the volleyball court, the teams raise money for a charity. Earlier this season, the charity was the Victoria Business and Education Coalition. Now, though, the East volleyball squad is holding another fundraiser with the proceeds going to Matt.

"When the idea came up, everyone was on board with it," Amber said.

The East volleyball fundraiser will begin Monday and run through the Oct. 12 meeting between the East and West volleyball teams.

"We're all close with Matt," Amber said. "It was really emotional. It's hard not to tear up just thinking about him. We love him to death and just want him to get better."

On Sept. 18, which is also Matt's birthday, the East and West volleyball teams met on the court for the first time in 2012. Before the game, the Titans got to spend some time with Matt.

"He told us that he just wanted to go out and watch us play because it would be the last time before he starts chemo," Amber said. "It was his birthday and he just wanted to do something. So, we sang 'Happy Birthday' to him."

To those around him, Matt smiles easily, laughs and even makes jokes.

"It's a whole new perspective on life," he said. "There are people worse than me, and I don't see how they can do it. You have to enjoy it while you still have everything."

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