BOTHELL — As Colton Matter knows, a good athlete needs determination, perseverance and a willingness to overcome.
And when the opponent is cancer, all that matters even more.
Colton, who is 12, was diagnosed three years ago with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. It is a cruel, treacherous and often unrelenting disease that assails the body and spirit of even its most courageous victims.
Already in Colton’s young life he has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation as well as a bone marrow transplant and a subsequent stem cell transplant. Twice Colton thought he had his leukemia licked, but twice it returned, most recently in October.
He is scheduled for another bone marrow transplant sometime next month. Although initially reluctant to undergo a third transplant procedure, a conversation with his mother helped Colton regain his usual pluck.
“If I’ve heard one quote from him over and over again, it’s, ‘Let’s just get this over with,’” Suzy Matter said. “He’s not a complainer and he’s never been a crybaby. He just wants to get it done.”
Exceptional athletes have “a certain mindset” that helps them prevail, said his father, Jeff “Butch” Matter. “It’s a tenacity, and Colton has that in him.”
Young Colton’s resolve comes largely from sports, his parents agree. He has experienced losing, injuries and other athletic hardships, but he never gives in to adversity.
Moreover, his longing to resume playing soccer, basketball and baseball has helped push him through some very difficult months of treatment.
Colton’s baseball team will start practicing for the new season in March, “and he has every intention of being on the field,” his mother said. “Baseball is his No. 1 true love, so knowing that he can be back out there is a huge driver.”
Even at the hospital, where Colton has stayed for extended periods over the past three years, sports have been a welcome escape. The day after his most recent transplant, he was in the hallway outside his room, playing Nerf basketball with his dad.
Moments like that “are absolutely part of his healing,” his mother said.
The first clue that anything was amiss came in the summer of 2009 when Colton, then 9 years old, took a spill on his scooter. The most obvious injury was a bloody arm, but later he complained of a sore hip. The pain grew so severe “that he slept on the couch and cried through the night,” Suzy Matter said. “It was weird, but we just thought there was something wrong with his leg.”
When the pain persisted, his mother took him to the doctor and later to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Over the next few weeks physicians could find nothing wrong with Colton’s leg, so they finally ordered a blood draw. They tested again a week later, and that night an orthopedic doctor called and began talking to Suzy Matter about a high level of platelets and immature white blood cells.
“There was all this blood jargon in the conversation and I finally asked, ‘What are you saying?’ And she said, ‘We’re looking at a possible leukemia.’
“And at that point,” Suzy Matter said, “our lives changed.”
Chemotherapy and radiation twice helped get Colton’s leukemia into remission, which is necessary for a transplant. He also had months of remission after the procedures, which allowed him to get back to sports and school with the budding hope of a life without cancer.
But both times his leukemia decided otherwise. “This disease is feisty,” Suzy Matter said. “It comes back.”
Colton returned to Mill Creek’s Heatherwood Middle School earlier this year, and this fall he joined the U12 Blasters, a soccer team that draws largely from Mill Creek and south Everett. But he relapsed in October and has been unable to play since resuming chemotherapy and radiation.
Being a spectator at his team’s games is hard for Colton “because he still has the drive to play,” Butch Matter said. “Sometimes he doesn’t want to go.”
But when he does attend, as he did Saturday for a state semifinal playoff game in Tukwila, his teammates celebrate his return. “They all like it (when I come),” Colton said. “They hug me.”
Indeed, the support of family and friends has given Colton a profound boost along the way. But according to his mother, so has his Christian faith.
“Colton asks really hard questions about God,” Suzy Matter said. “But he also says, ‘He’s with me. We’re going to kick this together.’ So his faith has been a huge thing.”
And when a relative brought a frog balloon to the hospital, Colton immediately knew the significance. “He said, ‘Oh, Frog. That stands for Fully Rely on God,’” she said.
Even as he battles a stubborn, menacing disease, Colton has big dreams. More than anything, he wants to be a major-league baseball player.
Which is good, said his father, “because that’s what you fight for. You fight for your dreams.”
And in the meantime, Suzy Matter said, “he just wants to be a normal 12-year-old kid. He doesn’t want a spotlight. He doesn’t want an audience. He just likes being with the other kids, having fun and playing sports.”
For more information about Colton Matter and the many people who are supporting him in his fight against cancer, visit www.coltonsarmy.com.