The tumor in John Griffin’s back is almost 4.5 inches long. It’s a good thing his heart is so big.
Griffin, who is 13 years old and about to enter eighth grade, has Stage 3 melanoma. When asked what he’d wish for if given the chance, Griffin said he’d like to see a new baseball facility in East County.
It’s acts like this that led Little League Baseball to select Griffin as the recipient of its 2019 Good Sport award.
“He’s a special kid. He always has been. It’s not the cancer that makes him what he is,” said Griffin’s Little League coach, Steve Bove. “He was telling us about how things were going, and he said he gets to make a wish. And we were like, what are you going to ask to do. And he told us how he wanted a baseball field or complex built in Montesano to help because there’s not enough facilities.
“He said he’d get something out of it because when he wins, when he beats cancer, he’s going to be there and his kids will play there.”
Little League gives one Good Sport of the Year award per year from the field of international applicants. It “is designed to honor Little Leaguers who exhibit the values of Little League which are character, courage and loyalty. These children learn what it means to truly be part of a team and conduct themselves accordingly to the principles of fair play and good sportsmanship,” the organization’s website states.
Bove said he nominated Griffin in part because of the example he sets to other players. In 2014, Bove also nominated Cole Daniels, who won that year’s Good Sport award.
“The way that he has been going through this treatment and showing up to play has been a big lesson to the other kids,” Bove said. “He has the attention of many kids. He just kind of is inspiring everybody.”
During the ceremony July 3 at Nelson Field to announce the award, Griffin appeared embarrassed to be recognized.
“It’s kind of an honor to me that out of the world of Little League, that I was chosen for that award,” he said.
Griffin plays pitcher, catcher and outfield. When asked about the cancer treatments, he didn’t complain.
“It slows me down quite a bit,” he said. “And I can’t do the things I could do last year. It wears me out.”
But he’s looking forward to getting back into sports, if not classes, when he returns to Montesano Junior High in the fall.
“I also enjoy playing sports like, football,” the wide receiver and linebacker said. “I don’t have a favorite subject in school. I am just looking forward to football, mainly because I didn’t think I was going to be able to play this year.”
Griffin’s mom, Angela Jones of Central Park, has been taking John to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma for treatment of this highly unusual disease.
“The reason why it’s so rare is because it started in a muscle in his back and also the sheer size of the tumor,” she said.
John is undergoing immunotherapy to try to shrink the tumor to make surgery to remove it less traumatic. The procedure today likely would require the removal of ribs to get it all.
“Removal (of the tumor) would have required a huge surgery that would have taken months if not years to recover, if a full recovery was even possible. They didn’t know,” Jones said.
The 11 centimeter tumor was found to have three satellite tumors surrounding it and to have spread to lymph nodes under John’s left arm, his nonpitching arm.
He has received four doses of two types of immunotherapy drugs by infusions through a port in his chest. The infusions take about 30 minutes each. The next round of infusions begins late this month.
Through it all, he’s played baseball. Except when he was taking part in the Relay For Life fundraising walk for the American Cancer Society.
“He’s only missed one game this year, and that was to go walk in the cancer walk. And nobody can blame him for that,” Bove said. “And the team finished the game and went to the Relay as well.”
John played this spring for the Peterson Rock Drillers. This weekend, he will play with the District 3 champion Junior League All-Stars team of 13- and 14-year-olds in the state tournament. The game is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Hudson Bay High School’s Propstra Stadium located at 1601 E. McLoughlin Blvd. in Vancouver, Washington.
After that, it’s back to the treatments.
“Everything is on the fly. We revisit everything every three months. They said for at least a year, we’ll continue this process,” Jones said. “The doctors at Mary Bridge have consulted with doctors from all over to see how to treat this. There’s no precedent for this. Nobody has this same kind of melanoma in a muscle. It’s super unusual.”
Through everything that’s happened to her son, Jones maintains her positivity.
“I feel like we’re pretty lucky,” she said. “I didn’t think he’d get to play baseball or go to school or anything like that. I took a part-time position at work so I can be there for all the what-ifs.”
Now, thanks to coach Bove nominating John for the Good Sport award, they will have a break next month to be a family, to go to the Little League Baseball World Series in Pennsylvania and watch some baseball.
“The award means a ton to us,” Jones said. “He’s just this kid from a small town. It’s sort of like winning the lotto, honestly.”