CROSS COUNTRY: North Port’s Garrett back on track after overcoming cancer

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

Dillon Garrett runs around the track at a North Port High School during a cross country practice this week, as he and the Bobcats prepare for a meet they're hosting tomorrow. (Sun Photo by Bryan Levine)

Dillon Garrett runs around the track at a North Port High School during a cross country practice this week, as he and the Bobcats prepare for a meet they’re hosting tomorrow. (Sun Photo by Bryan Levine)

NORTH PORT — Dillon Garrett passed by his mom Heather in the hallway one night and told her he felt a lump while he was drying off after a shower.

It was right before bedtime, so she told him to get a good night’s sleep and to see how it was in the morning.

She knew what it was because she had seen it before.

“In my mind, because we had someone else in our family who had that, I freaked out in my head,” his mother recalled. “But I wanted to keep him calm, so I didn’t say anything.”

Before Dillon, a cross country runner at North Port High School, could even text his mother to the next day to tell her it was still there, Heather had already made an appointment for him to see a urologist the following Monday.

Dillon, who will join his Bobcats teammates on Saturday for the North Port Invitational, went with his father, Scott, to the doctor, and things moved quickly from there.

“It was out of nowhere, and really unexpected,” Dillon said. “It was surreal. I didn’t really accept it right away, because it was like, how did this happen so fast?”

His appointment was at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, 2016 — six days after his 17th birthday.

The diagnosis was Non-seminoma ebryonal carcinoma — more commonly known as testicular cancer.

He needed to have surgery immediately to remove any of the cancerous cells. His dad wanted a second opinion, but by that time, the head of the urology department was already in the room with them, and said, “I’m giving you your second opinion right now.”

By 10:30 a.m. the next day, Dillon was on the operating table.

“I was really nervous going into it,” Dillon said. “My uncle had the same surgery before so I talked to him on the phone, and he told me the process he went through and eased my mind a little bit.”

Despite the terrifying diagnosis, and immediate surgery, recovery wasn’t too lengthy. The surgeon believed they removed all the cancer, and it helped it was caught in a very early stage.

Chemotherapy was an option, but not required. Instead, Dillon elected to go into a watch program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

“It was very relieving,” his mother said. “We made sure Dillon was educated on exactly what chemo was because we wanted him to know what the side effects were. When it came down to do it, we decided we didn’t want him to have to do it. Without knowing our decision, Dillon said he wanted to be in the watch program, and the doctor agreed.”

He still has to get bloodwork every eight weeks, and cat scans every four months, but three weeks after the surgery, Dillon was back to running at near full strength. However, the three weeks off set him back for the rest of the track and field season.

“At that point before surgery, I was probably at my prime of running,” Dillon said. “I had just finished running a half-marathon.

“It was difficult to move around for sure, certain positions sitting down and everything. Once I got back into running, I wasn’t near where I left off before the surgery, so it was difficult accepting that, too.”

Dillon went about his business as if nothing happened in order to get back to where he was before the surgery.

He didn’t have to deal with accepting he wasn’t where he was last year for too long because he’s already surpassed his marks from 2015. He fluctuated between the fifth and sixth-best runner for North Port last year, which is near the bottom of the roster.

This year, however, he’s been first or second in every race.

He won a preseason meet at Port Charlotte and finished third overall at the Bradenton Runners Club meet in August with a time of 17 minutes, 30,8 seconds. Last week at the Venice Invite, his career-best time of 17:20.20 helped the Bobcats to just their second win at a meet in program history.

“It’s just incredible, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Coach Phu Nguyen said. “If you ask any of the runners, even the ones who were better than him, he’s the hardest-working kid on our team. When I had the seniors vote for captains, I said pick two guys, and every single one picked him.”

Dillon and the Bobcats will look to repeat last week’s results Saturday when they host one of the biggest meets in the area. Charlotte, Lemon Bay and Port Charlotte will be among a field that will number around 60 schools.

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