It’s the most formidable of opponents, but battling cancer is like designing a game plan and focusing on its execution.
That’s how former Mansfield Summit boys basketball coach Jason Mutterer is taking on his daughter’s rare occurrence of cancer.
It was just after Thanksgiving — Nov. 29, he vividly recalls — that Mutterer’s 13-year old daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
A rare occurrence, indeed, for a 13-year old to develop a germ-cell cancer like ovarian cancer. The odds are two-in-a-million for that age.
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If there is a good aspect, it’s that Mutterer was in a better position to help develop and carry out his game plan against cancer due to what he said is a definitive intervention from a higher power.
Just last summer, after 23 years of coaching, Mutterer decided it was time to put family first and stepped away from coaching. He’s now an assistant principal at Summit after spending the previous 15 years as the Jaguars’ head basketball coach.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get out of coaching,” Mutterer said. “But I missed my oldest daughter’s (Grace) regional swim meet and other events.
“I now have the flexibility to not worry about X’s and O’s.”
Emma has a twin sister, Lily, and they’re all active in athletics.
This time of year would prove critical in being available for the journey his daughter and family have had to embark on.
In November, after over a week of Emma not feeling quite up to par, the primary care physician thought she might just be suffering from constipation.
But X-rays and normal treatments for such a condition rendered no relief.
Finally, when Emma began to run a fever, her mom, Jenny, took her to the emergency room at Cook Children’s Medical Center.
A protein marker in the blood with a normal range between 1-4 registered a whopping 75,000 in Emma.
A CT scan confirmed a tumor on her right ovary. It was an orange-sized tumor which could have metastasized to her lungs and liver.
“There’s just no way,” Mutterer said to his wife. “We’re treating constipation. I asked the ER doctor what’s the chance it wasn’t malignant. He said, ‘none.’”
Now that they knew what the next opponent was, Mutterer and the medical team could formulate a game plan.
“For Emma, we dealt with the surgery first. We told her it was cancer, but at 13, they don’t fully understand the implications of cancer. Surgery was the biggest fear, the first concern,” Mutterer said. “As the process goes along, we explained it in a very blunt manner.”
The night after going to the ER, Emma went into surgery.
What they found was not an orange-sized tumor at all. It was more the size of a volleyball. Two other spots, one malignant, were located on her pelvic wall.
Doctors also removed two liters of fluid from her abdomen.
Surgeons were able to remove just the right ovary and leave the Fallopian tube. That will likely not impact Emma’s fertility.
In true sports fashion, Mutterer grabbed on to the analogy given him by the doctors regarding Emma having both Fallopian tubes and just one ovary.
“She has one pitcher but two catchers,” he said.
Chemo has reduced Emma’s original long hair into what she terms as “a hair line like my daddy,” alluding to Mutterer’s receding hair line.
Emma was to begin her final of three rounds of chemotherapy this week. Each round requires a five-day stay at the hospital, and other chemo drugs are administered via infusion therapy each week.
The outlook is positive, as Mutterer said the success rate for this cancer at this stage is 95 percent.
After news spread of Emma’s situation, Mutterer’s brother in Minnesota created a #EmmaStrong social media hashtag on a ribbon which caught on all across the Mansfield ISD.
Keli Cullen, who leads leadership training for the MISD athletics program, was soon selling #EmmaStrong t-shirts.
With all that was happening, Mutterer said the Christmas trip to Minnesota to visit family was off the books.
“That was actually the first time she cried, when we couldn’t go back,” Mutterer said of Emma’s disappointment.
Other events have been planned for recognition and fund raising, such as the Jan. 2 games against Lake Ridge. It was a “Coaches vs. Cancer” theme. Both boys and girls teams wore teal shirts to further the awareness of ovarian cancer.
On Jan. 31, Summit and Mansfield ISD will host a will host a fundraiser dinner at the high school with catering donated by Spring Creek Barbeque.
There is also a GoFundMe at https://www.gofundme.com/qh3cap-emmastrong.