Austan's story one of triumph over adversity

SPOKANE - Austan Pierce is a local teen who has been fighting cancer and its effects on his body for nearly half his life but still he continues to adapt so he can win the fight.

Cancer is a disease that affects many and even after a person might have gotten rid of the disease they hardly ever feel they are in the clear. For the first 10 years of his life Austan had a story very similar to many boys his age.

?It was good, I mean, I loved life, I loved sports, I enjoyed friends and family, it seemed just like a normal childhood, happiness and everything,? Austan said.

Then that story drastically changed.

?My life because of cancer ? as an athletic boy of 11-years-old, cancer is the last thing on your mind. That is until you hear the last thing you ever expected to hear, you have cancer. I remember laying in a hospital room late on the night of October 17, 2003 after completing an MRI. It was around 11 when my doctor entered my room giving my parents and me the news that would change my life forever,? he said.

"I mean, a lot of it is sometimes like a dream, and you kind of wake up and go, wow ... how did this all happen, or where did this all begin,? Austan?s dad Mark Pierce said.

Austan had a type of bone cancer called Ewings Sarcoma. There was a five-inch tumor up against his left pelvic bone. Chemotherapy was a must but doctors were optimistic he would walk again.

"They said he would walk again. That is what they thought,? Austan?s mom Jonelle Pierce said. ?They were very optimistic, which was hopeful for him and for us to think that with a lot of dedication and determination, he would walk again."

What followed was two years of agony.

Austan had horrible sunburns from the radiation treatments. He went from 110 pounds to just 77. The tumor eventually went away but scar tissue still remained so part of his pelvic bone had to be removed.

?After that surgery, I all but lost the function in my left leg. Strike one," he said.

?In order to try and give me the use of my left leg back, the orthopedic surgeon put a cement spacer in my pelvis. Due to a deep rooted infection it got a surgical infection. Strike Two. Then they then went in to rid my body of the infection. I still had no use in my left leg. Strike Three."

?Everybody was optimistic, even the doctors, I mean, they all thought they could save my leg, but it just didn't work out. I mean, we all had hopes and we all worked to try to get me to walk again, but it just didn't happen."

On December 13, 2006 Austan's story changed once again. After he and his doctors convinced his parents it was the best thing to do Austan made the choice to remove his left leg.

?We finally got to where we realized, you know, Austan, you are right. And as hard as this will be and we will have to say goodbye to this leg, you were meant for greater things, so it was a turning point, we got to that, it took a lot," Jonelle said.

After the amputation there were still plenty of complications. Austan had phantom pains and still does to this day. He had to have weekly spinal taps to release unexplained pressure that was causing severe headaches. He also had to face the prospect of returning to Ferris High School, a place he hadn't been in more than two years.

?I was concerned that everyone was going to look at me and it was going to be awkward and it would be hard to catch up and stuff. But I really wasn't that far behind. Everybody was really welcoming and accepting of the situation. They were really supportive."

Austan found another source of strength from his childhood passion: Sports.

?If it wasn't for the sports aspect, I think this whole story might have a different twist to it,? Mark said. ?One thing that has been nice is that the sports have really opened up a door for him to have an avenue, and for us as well, to put some of the hard times behind us."

?After 70 surgeries, some major, some minor, I have learned the hard way that when one door closes, another door opens. I was forced to give up able bodied sports, but am now playing on a nationally ranked wheelchair basketball team," Austan said.

The team ? St. Lukes ? and success didn't come right away.

?At first, it was kind of difficult, I mean, I would dribble the ball off my wheel, and it's a big difference from able bodied basketball,? he explained.

But the more Austan played the more he improved. About a year and a half ago Austan started to talk to college coaches. This upcoming fall he will become the first male St. Lukes athlete to play wheelchair college basketball when he enrolls at the University of Texas-Arlington.

?When you talk about a dark time, that was all just light at the end of the tunnel, all those things, and the fact he got involved with Team St. Lukes, and he really still got to be involved with the sport he loved, and now he is taking it to the next level is very exciting, I mean, he's excited, and when he's excited, I am ecstatic," Mark said.

So the story continues for Austan. As hard as it's been he says he wouldn't change a thing.

?I love who I am and if I could go back and change my life, I would pass up every opportunity to do so,? Austan said.

Austan hasn't just overcome his own personal tragedy but he's helped others do the same, meeting with individuals and their families before they go through amputations to try and prepare them for what they are about to go through.

?He has turned out to be my hero, and really, the pillar of the family because he gets us through the toughest of times, and there were times when he would keep us as parents strong, which was amazing to me, so if I have a hero, it's my son,? Mark said.

Nobody knows how Austan?s story will end but most would say It already has a happy ending.

Written by KXLY4's Ben Kaplan