Cancer Won’t Define Gaithersburg Teen
Austin Cohen has cancer but that’s not what he wants you to know about him. He loves football, hanging out with his friends from Quince Orchard High School, snapchating and photography and a list of other fun things teenagers do.
“I don’t think the story is the QO ex-football player or Gaithersburg teen who has cancer. I think the story is how he handles it,” Scott Cohen said of his son.
Austin will likely celebrate his 15th birthday in May while undergoing an experimental immunotherapy trial at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in an effort to rebuild his immune system so the cancer that attacked his leg and then both lungs won’t come back. If the cancer’s attack was on his body, where it wasn’t was his spirit.
“Austin is awesome. He’s been hanging out with his cousin and staying up late and goofing off. It makes you forget there is something to remember,” said his dad.
That “something” is the bone cancer (osteosarcoma) discovered in Austin’s leg January 2014 that first presented as just knee pain until the cancer weakened his femur enough to break it under his own weight in March 2014. After treating him with six aggressive rounds of chemotherapy, Austin made the decision to attack the cancer by removing it via rotationplasty which essentially took the mid section of his leg, attached his lower calf and foot backwards onto the upper part of his thigh using his ankle joint as a knee joint.
That way Austin could get back to playing sports and being an active teen. It also put him back on the football field as part of the QO team. Being on that team is something he’s wanted to do growing up. On the sidelines this fall, Austin used his lens to capture the passes he planned to catch and the touchdowns he planned to run during his freshman year.
Just last month, during Austin’s first three-month follow-up visit, the CT scan he had found what Scott Cohen called “not suppose to be there spots.” Those spots- cancer- dispersed over both lungs were removed via a median sternotomy usually used for cardiac surgery.
Now Austin is on another journey, this time to New York City for the experimental drug therapy. His dad said it’s a journey his son doesn’t want to make.
“He doesn’t want to fall behind in school and he won’t be around his friends, he wants life to be as normal as possible but he doesn’t have the choice right now,” Scott Cohen said.
And it’s those friends, family and those who admire Austin’s positive attitude who have circled to help the family get through the battle.
They’ve set up a YouCaring page to help defray medical and living expenses that are piling up and will continue to add up with the New York treatments. So far it has a little more than $8,000.
The treatment could take three weeks or more depending on Austin’s reaction to the drugs, according to Scott Cohen.
“It is very new and not a lot is known about the side effects,” Scott Cohen said. “It is a true phase 1 trial.”
What is known is that Austin has inspired his family and community.
“He’s an incredible fighter,” said Katie Czworka, family friend who started the YouCaring fundraiser along with Amira Iskander. “The kid is unbelieveable. From the beginning of this journey he has been incredibly positive and optimistic and more concerned about everyone around him.”
The site gives the community the opportunity to provide meals, groceries and especially Austin’s favorite bagels. Now the community can help out the family financially as well.
His father said the events has shown him the support his son has in the community.
“It has been absolutely amazing. He’s a good kid and people are attracted to him. He’s been upset a couple times. Every once in a while he says, ‘this sucks’ and then moves on,” Scott Cohen said.
And Scott’s learned more about his son than he ever wanted to know.
“I have learned he is stronger than I wanted to know he was. I learned he has a high tolerance for pain,” Scott Cohen said of his son. “I learned when you face something like this you can go in two directions- spiral and be angry and bitter or the other way. If people didn’t know he had what he had they wouldn’t know, he doesn’t complain, he goes to school. Life is usual except when it is not.”