SAN DIEGO -- Before Myer Turchin was diagnosed, he was playing baseball.
He was at batting practice at the time, waiting on his turn to hit. At some point, he fell down and got a scrape. No big deal. Take him to the doctor, make sure there’s no infection and before long he’d be right back to playing baseball and running around--being a normal kid.
That’s not the way everything played out.
“Instead of it just going away and clearing up, it got worse,” said Katie Turchin, Myer’s mother. “He ended up with a very high fever and stomach pains. So we brought him to the doctor and eventually ended up at Rady Children's Emergency Room, where they took some blood tests and saw that his blood was not normal.”
Katie’s husband--and Myer’s father--Josh, was getting ready for a game when he heard that something was wrong and he needed to head to the hospital.
“I was coaching his fall ball team at the time,” Josh said. “I was in the dugout unpacking catcher's gear and (Katie) called me up and was like, 'You've got to give the gear to somebody else.' There were like three other coaches with me, all of whom weren't there, but I just had to pull another parent and say you have to take care of this. My wife said I have to get to the hospital.
“I walked into the hospital as they were bringing him up to the cancer ward, and she didn't tell me the word ‘cancer’ or anything.”
After Katie found out that something was off with Myer’s blood, she and Myer were pulled up to the hematology and oncology floor for the news: Myer--just 4 years old at the time--was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
According to the American Cancer Society, acute lymphoblastic leukemia--also called acute lymphocytic leukemia--is a cancer that begins in the early version of white blood cells (called lymphocytes) in bone marrow. The leukemia cells can quickly spread to other parts of the body, and “acute” means the cancer progresses quickly and could even be fatal within a few months.
Myer, now 6 years old and in remission, has taken his diagnosis in stride and continued to live the life he wants to live, not the one that cancer limits him to.
The Turchins have a “step up to the plate” attitude about life, and Myer has been doing nothing but hitting.
He got a chance to swing the bat Friday morning at Rady Children’s Hospital, when the 53 players invited to the Perfect Game All-American Classic toured the hospital and spent some time playing with kids outside. This is Myer’s second time being involved with the Classic. Last year he threw out the game’s first pitch to Trevor Hoffman, and he was just cleared to do it again this Sunday.
If his pitching to various Perfect Game All-Americans is any indication, he’ll do just fine on the big stage at Petco Park. He brought the heat against talented hitters like O’Connor High (Phoenix, Ariz.) third baseman and West (Waukesha, Wisc.) High outfielder Jarred Kelenic, often blowing fastballs by them and their inflated bats, or simply plunking them to assert his baseball authority.
After showing the PG All-Americans how to pitch, Myer crushed a few pitches from Brookwood High (Snellville, Ga.) catcher Will Banfield, and at one point lined one right back up the middle, hitting Banfield in the face:
“Baseball is a big lure for him,” Josh said. “On game days, he knows he doesn't get to play in his baseball game unless he goes to school. If you're not well enough to go to school, you don't play in the baseball game.
“He didn't miss any baseball games.”
Myer’s favorite player is Padres first baseman Wil Myers--the name is just a fortunate coincidence--but he also plays basketball and loves to surf and skateboard. In addition to all of Myer’s athletic endeavors, he’s also written and illustrated his own book, detailing his experience battling cancer.
“At the end of the day we were so lucky that he was young (when he was diagnosed),” Josh said. “The kid just charges forward and we just sort of adopt his perspective of things.”
Myer has to take daily oral chemo capsules until February 22, 2019, which is the scheduled end date for the bulk of his treatment. Before the capsules, Myer had to take liquid chemo, which tasted awful and ruined anything that his parents tried to put it in: ice cream, Jell-O, pudding, you name it. Now Myer is proud of the fact that he’s able to swallow capsules, and he’s able to enjoy the foods that are back to tasting how they’re supposed to: good.
“He's never asked, ‘Why me?'” Katie said. “He's like, ‘All right, this is what happened and so we just keep moving forward.’ This is our life. That's kind of just how we live life in general and this kind of amplified that.”
Back in the Rady Children’s hospital garden, Myer is flocked by a a dozen or so Perfect Game All-Americans who are hunting for his autograph. Montverde (Fla.) Academy shortstop Nander De Sedas pushes something his way.
“Last one,” De Sedas says, “and then that’s it.”
“Last one,” Myer replies. He’s ready to get back to playing.
After he’s done with autographs, the players challenge Myer to see who can make a paper airplane that flies the farthest. De Sedas is confident in his model.
“Can you beat this one?” Kellenic says, pointing to De Sedas’ plane.
“Probably,” Myer says immediately.
De Sedas’ plane flies far and true, but Myer has specifically designed his to do tricks, and when he lets it loose the white paper plane goes around in circles and does flips, above the heads of Myer and 6-foot-4 American Heritage (Plantation, Fla.) High infielder Triston Casas alike.
After a few tosses and laughs, Myer speaks up:
“I want to play some more baseball. Where’s the bat?”
Cancer’s not going to stop him.
Myer lines a pitch from Will Banfield back up the middle