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Senior stays strong in face of adversity

September 04, 2013
The summer before your senior year in high school always seems to be the one to have gotten away from most people, and many people have a hard time recalling those long, hot, dog days.

Dayton Austin is seen here on his birthday in May. He has since undergone his initial rounds of chemotherapy and has had to cut back on his business of mowing lawns, though he still does get out and work when he can. Photo Courtesy of Marsha Bye
It's not easy preparing for your senior year. Psyching yourself up for the piles of homework, planning for the future and gearing up to say goodbye to the people you've known your entire life can make for a pretty hectic time.

But, for Dayton Austin, a senior at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, it's the summer he will never forget.

It's the summer doctors found a tumor that exceeded the size of Dayton's heart was encapsulated inside his chest. It's the summer Dayton found out he had cancer and learned how to pronounce the words stage III mediastinal seminoma.

"I was shocked. It stunned us all," he said. "But they didn't just tell us that I had cancer and then leave us there, they told us exactly what we needed to do, so that helped."

His mother, Marsha Bye, was less than comforted by the news but was happy they had finally discovered the answer to the problems her son had been experiencing.

"You never want it to be your child, you see all of these children on Facebook that have cancer and it's just heartbreaking," she said. "When we'd talk about it, I always said I couldn't imagine if my child had to go through that."

In April, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, fatigue and swelling had been plaguing Dayton for a while, but he had already been to the emergency room and was referred to his primary care physician.

"What caused me to go to the hospital was I swelled up great big — I looked like I was 500 pounds. My face and chest swelled up great big," he said. "I had bad headaches from time to time. She said it was just blood pressure."

When he returned home, he began experiencing chest pains.

"There was so much pressure, and it ended up being right where the mass was at," he said. "Mom said we're done fooling around and took me to Floyd County; that's where they found it and they did every kind of test on it."

After conferring with doctors Dayton found he had mediastinal seminoma, and it was biopsied and found to be in the third stage. A mediastinal seminoma is a type of tumor that develops from reproductive cells and are generally found in the male reproductive organs and occasionally female reproductive organs. However, as in Dayton's case, they can grow in other areas of the body, such as the stomach, brain or mediastinum, which is the area in the center of the chest, located between the lungs that contains the heart, trachea and esophagus.

While it's rare for Dayton's type of cancer to grow outside of the reproductive organs, the most common placement when that does happen is in the chest.

Doctors aren't really certain how these tumors develop, but they have two theories. The first is that the cancer began in the reproductive organs and spread at an early stage, causing the original cancer to disappear or become too small to find. The second, and what doctors believe in Dayton's case, is that he's had it his entire life and the cells that form his particular tumor were displaced during development in the womb.

Dayton said his doctor helped them to understand the situation a little better.

"The doctor drew a picture for us of my heart and lungs and all of that and then he drew a picture of my tumor, and it was nearly as big as my lungs," he said.

Now, Dayton and his family wonder if the few problems he had leading up to this — he developed mono that wasn't readily diagnosed and pneumonia previously — weren't a complication of his growing tumor.

"They said it's been there his whole life," Bye said. "So, it makes you wonder a little bit."

That was in June. Now, Dayton is still pushing forward with his treatments and, though he has experience some setbacks, he is scheduled for nine weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Those treatments generally go for five days at a time and he receives treatment for five hours each day.

"I didn't get out that easy, so now it's stretched longer than that because I got behind, my counts got down," he said. "I took my long week of chemo then for two weeks you just go Monday, and I always make it that first Monday, I was OK, and that second Monday my counts were down. That's happened twice now."

While it all seems quite scary, there is a silver lining, and Dayton keeps it in mind every day.

Mediastinal seminoma has a five-year survival rate of more than 90 percent. The cancer is highly receptive to chemotherapy treatments.

"The doctor said he hasn't seen nothing in this short amount of time shrink so fast," Dayton said. "He actually said that there is a 99.9-percent cure rate that the chemo will take care of it in nine weeks."

It's good news for the high school senior.

Dayton's family has learned many lessons these last few months but none has been bigger than what they've learned about the people who surround them.

"You really learn who your real friends are," Bye said. "You really do."

The community support that they've had has been a boon during this time. Because of the school's cooperation with Dayton's treatment schedule, he will be able to graduate on time, even though he can't always attend school. He's been given a substitute to help him stay caught up, and as long as his health permits it, he will be able to pursue his heavy machinery certifications that he began at the Prosser School of Technology when he's finished.

The family has also been the recipient of some generous friends' helping hands. Justin Smith and Stephanie Moffatt have organized a fundraiser for the family to help cover expenses.

The event will take place Saturday at Crawford County Junior-Senior High School. Chicken dinners will be available for $8. Food service will begin at noon and run until 5 p.m. Hot dogs and chips will also be available for purchase. A silent auction is slated to run from 5 to 8 p.m., and "Dayton's Fight" T-shirts and bracelets will be available for sale.

There will also be a poker run for anyone who wishes to participate. Sign-ups will take place the day of the event, beginning at 10:30 a.m., and kickstands up at 12:45 p.m. The fee is $15 for a single rider and $20 for a couple. The Village, Marengo Tavern, Beef 'O'Brady's and Walter's Pub will all be stops along the way. Prizes will be given away during the run.

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