By Kyle Daubs

Dalton McFarland has a long way to go, but he’s okay with that. 

McFarland, a Neoga native, former Mattoon Post 88 baseball player and the current Casey-Westfield special education teacher/softball coach was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma. It was not an easy road to get a final diagnosis. 

From zero to 100

McFarland said that about a month ago, his stomach had been bothering him off and on for a period of time. He called the pain “flare-ups.” After a couple of weeks, McFarland felt that it was time to get it looked into. He went to see a doctor for a routine check-up and was told if it got worse to come back and see him. 

After a couple of days, his stomach felt better. McFarland went to the gym to get a workout in and halfway through the workout, his stomach really started to bother him. 

“It just kept hurting and getting worse,” said McFarland. “When I drove home, I kinda laid down and tried to sleep it off, but it was hurting and hurting. Eventually, it got worse and the pain medication I was prescribed didn’t work. At that point, I knew something was wrong.”

Fast forward to about 1 a.m. and it was the worst possible situation you could have imagined. McFarland laid with excruciating stomach pain and the surgeons that could perform the surgery didn’t come until late that morning. He would have to wait until noon. 

That was when the trigger to the pain was revealed. 

“They found five tumors,” said McFarland. “The reason for all of the pain was that one of my tumors burst through my small intestine. It went completely through.That was when they were able to remove all five tumors.”

As McFarland began to recover, the doctors found that the tumors were a cancerous type of lymphoma. At the time, all the doctors could do was remove the tumors from his small intestine and send them in for testing at the cancer center. 

A rare breed

The initial results yielded that McFarland had Burkitt Lymphoma, which is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which cancer starts in immune cells called B-cells. It’s recognized as a fast-growing human tumor and is extremely rare. There are only three in every one million cases. It’s the fastest-growing type of lymphoma that exists. 

However, McFarland said that given all the variables, he feels that the cancer is not spreading. 

“I believe that it’s not growing fast,” said McFarland. “I believe with God’s intervention and the prayers from all of the communities that it’s not growing quickly. The doctors said that chemo will attack cancer throughout the body.”

McFarland said that just days after his major surgery, he felt like he was healing quickly. 

“I couldn’t be doing better given the situation,” said McFarland. “I went from not being able to move on the Monday I was in the hospital to moving with assistance the next day. On that Thursday, I did 37 laps around the hallway, which is a little over a mile. I have significantly gotten better every day.”

It’s softball season

While Burkitt Lymphoma is rapidly fatal if left untreated, the type of cancer is treatable through chemotherapy. Even better, McFarland can resume parts of his life. 

McFarland started chemo last Thursday and will resume treatment. According to his doctors, McFarland will be able to still coach through treatments and he can teach when he is feeling strong enough. 

In a traditional season, softball would have started this week. Due to COVID-19, the softball season doesn’t start until April 6. He said it’s all he thinks about. 

“I think about the season all day long,” said McFarland. “I’ve been in contact with my players. They have been in contact with my assistant coaches. The coaches and players are still putting in work and are training. My goal is that I am going to have a major part in the spring season.”

McFarland entered his sixth year teaching special education and junior high math this year. McFarland was in the middle of his third season coaching eighth-grade boys basketball where he accumulated a 60-7 record and two state berths before missing the last part of the season. 

McFarland has a record of 74-12 at the junior high level with two state berths and a combined record of 69-28 at the high school level where he has led Casey-Westfield to two Elite 8 finishes. With a stable group coming back, McFarland has been hopeful for another successful softball season ever since the IHSA announced a state tournament would take place. 

“I’m going to find out what I can do and how much I can be involved, but I’m praying and believing that I will have a major role,” said McFarland. “We have so many tremendous players and coaches coming back. It should be another incredible spring softball season in Casey-Westfield.”

Feeling the support

Through this experience, McFarland said he has felt the support from everyone. From the community in Neoga, to the surrounding area in Casey, to his former coaches and teammates dating back to Mattoon Post 88, McFarland has felt the love. 

“My parents (Scott and Lynn) have been here every step of the way,” said McFarland. “I have felt tremendous support from people in Neoga and Mattoon who knew me dating back to my baseball days. My parents have felt so much support from the members of Donnellys. The support from Casey is indescribable. The people in Casey have been more supportive than I could ever imagine. Somebody has been texting me every minute of the day.”

His coaching records are impressive, he was also a first-team All-NTC utility man in high school and was a member of the Regional Championship team. He qualified for the state tournament in all three seasons he played with Post 88. 

From his younger days of winning the state tournament with the Mattoon 12-year old All-Stars to qualifying for the NCAA Division III tournament with Greenville for the first time in school history, McFarland was made for winning. 

That’s why he believes he will defeat this. 

“I really feel that I have gotten so much better,” said McFarland. “It’s going to be something I take day by day but there is no doubt in my mind that the prayers and support from everybody have been heard by God. It helps heal my body. I made great progress over the course of four to five days. I’m going to beat this.”

How to help

• Casey-Westfield is holding a hog raffle to help raise funds for Dalton McFarland’s medical bills. Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased by calling either Josh Roberts (217-932-2175) or Scott McFarland (217-259-3661). The drawing will be held March 31 and the winner will be announced on the Casey-Westfield Facebook page.

• The Casey-Westfield School District has also established an account to assist with medical expenses at First Neighbor Bank in Casey. Donations can be dropped off at the high school or the bank.  

• And there will be a chicken and fish dinner through April 7 between 4-7 p.m. at Richards Farm Restaurant in Casey.