By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Mitchell Coffin is a normal teenager.
He likes school, hanging out with his friends and playing video games.
He’s an honor roll student at Effingham High School and really enjoys the theatrical productions. He recently had the role of Mr. Pinky in the school’s performance of Hairspray.
He likes playing Dungeons & Dragons, going to movies and is active in his youth group at First Baptist Church.
But last fall, this 16-year-old sophomore’s life became anything but normal.
“I started to have pain in my shoulder back in September,” Mitchell explained. “I thought it was a pulled muscle at first. There was a lot of swelling and a lot of pain. I could barely move it and had trouble sleeping.”
Eventually, the pain became intense and he started running a fever.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Mitchell had an appointment with an orthopedic doctor at Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital. X-rays were taken and the following Monday, Mitchell was back in the doctor’s office.
X-rays had revealed a mass in the shoulder.
That’s when Mitchell and his family found out he had Ewing Sarcoma, a rare cancer that is usually found in teenagers, especially boys between the ages of 13 and 18.
“At first, I was shocked. I didn’t expect to be told anything like that,” Mitchell added. “I thought it was just a muscle thing. I was really shocked and really scared. But I knew I had great support from family, friends and God.”
The doctor had already made an appointment for Mitchell at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. He was ultimately admitted to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Mitchell’s treatments began in early December. He was given chemotherapy three consecutive days.
“We were told his cancer was very aggressive and they had to kill it,” said his father, Jim. “Because Mitchell was younger, they believed he could withstand more of the treatments.”
“That first month is a blur,” Mitchell admitted. “I felt sick. I wasn’t used to it yet. I’d get exhausted and nauseous. I didn’t want to get out of bed much.”
After those first three days, there was a one-week reprieve. Then Mitchell received treatments for one week and was then off the following week. That cycle continued for a 12-week period that concluded the first week of March.
Following that initial round of chemo, additional PET scans were taken and the results were promising. The two tumors in Mitchell’s lungs were gone and the tumor in his shoulder had shrunk significantly.
“The doctors were super excited and we were, too,” Mitchell’s mother, Darlene, noted. “We have a lot of faith in what God is doing.”
At that point, the decision had to be made whether to continue treatments or have surgery. The doctors were not in favor of surgery.
“They thought it would be too extensive,” Darlene said. “They said he would lose too many bones in his shoulder and that he could have difficulty using his arms.”
Mitchell’s second round of treatments is scheduled to begin Tuesday (April 10). And he will undergo radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. The radiation treatment will take about 6½ weeks, but the chemo treatments will continue for 40 weeks.
“Because the cancer was caught early, the doctors believe he will respond well to the treatments,” Darlene said. “We are expecting a lot of exhaustion and a lot of sleeping. His numbers will drop, so we’ll probably have more and longer hospital stays.”
“There is a whirlwind of emotions,” Jim added. “Watching your child suffer this much and knowing it’s out of your hands. It’s tough to go through.”
“I had a good friend tell me this is the club nobody wants to be a member of,” Darlene noted.
Mitchell has been attending school when possible, but will now begin homebound schooling.
“The school has been very accommodating and the teachers have been wonderful,” Darlene noted.
“Of course, the one year I had to pick chemistry,” Mitchell added with a laugh. “I’ll try to keep up on my homework, but it’s hard staying up with everything.”
Before he headed back to St. Louis, a “Cancer Is In Treble” benefit was held for him. In addition, a recent fundraiser at Culver’s resulted in a $2,500 donation.
Darlene also told how three children from Sigel also helped.
“Their grandmother gives them money every Christmas so they can use it to help others in some way,” she explained. “All three said they wanted to give their money this year to Mitchell.”
“It’s humbling and overwhelming to see how much people are doing,” Jim added. “We just can’t thank everyone enough. This community, the school, church, friends and family have been so great.”
“At the hospital, you see people that don’t have the support we do,” Darlene said. “I can’t imagine going through this alone.”
Mitchell has lost his hair and admits to having good days and bad.
“When all this first started, I had some low days when I thought ‘Why me?’” Mitchell admitted. “But that feeling didn’t last very long. Now I’m feeling very confident.
“Being able to feel the support from everybody really helps,” he added. “People have been so nice. It really helps me get through the tough times.”
Despite the dramatic change in his life, Mitchell’s plans for the future have not been altered.
“I still plan to go to high school next year and eventually go to college,” he said. “I want to study the media arts or cinematography. I know I want to work in music somehow. The arts are my favorite thing.”
He has already established a goal for the summer of 2019.
“I want to try out for the talent show at the county fair,” Mitchell noted. “I watched it last year and thought it was real interesting. I knew I would like to try it. I’ve already been considering a couple songs. I haven’t made up my mind which song yet, but I definitely plan on singing.”