By Kyle Daubs
It wasn’t the chemo treatments that got the attention of the nurses.
It was when the Casey-Westfield softball team gave up a run.
Former Mattoon Post 88 and Greenville College baseball player Dalton McFarland was receiving treatment for his Stage 4 Lymphoma in the middle of softball season. While McFarland, the head softball coach for Casey-Westfield, was watching the live stream on his laptop, nurses could hear him yelling from the other room – and would rush to make sure everything was okay.
“I’d be like ‘Yeah, my softball team gave up a run,’”said McFarland. “I think I was way more worried about the game than me or my treatments.”
Softball was one of many reasons that McFarland can look at everyone one year later cancer-free and fully healthy. Last year, doctors found that McFarland had five tumors from his small intestine and he was then diagnosed with lymphoma.
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.
While it was easy to look at the negative, McFarland had a softball team to help keep his mind off things.
“When they first diagnosed me, they told me that I was not going to be able to coach,” said McFarland. “That was probably one of the most devastating moments of the whole thing. However, as time went on, they told me that my immune system was looking a lot better. As long as I was careful and did my best to not get sick, I could coach and teach.”
McFarland was able to coach the entire season, missing only eight of the 31 games.
“That honestly helped me stay focused and then we had a really good season.”
The Warriors finished 27-4 last year, advanced to the IHSA Sectional Championship.
McFarland has stayed busy, being able to coach not only high school softball, but also junior high softball and basketball as well. His eighth-grade boys basketball team, currently 25-2, recently won a Sectional Championship and are headed to the state tournament. Oh, and he was recently named athletic director at Casey-Westfield High School, too.
It’s good to stay busy.
“I’ve been absolutely blessed,” said McFarland. “I’m a man of faith and all the prayers from the beginning really helped me beat it. From the beginning, I had faith God would handle it, and all the prayers from family, friends, and the community helped no doubt in my mind.”
The road to recovery wasn’t an easy one. McFarland spent about two to five days every two weeks receiving treatment. McFarland spent three months in intensive treatment. The treatments were intense. Everything well went enough that McFarland was in remission by the middle of June.
“There were different cycles every round,” said McFarland. “There were some days I would head down to Barnes and get treatment for just a couple days, and other times four or five days. Sometimes, it was five straight days of chemo. I had some sessions go for 20 hours straight. The people at Barnes did an amazing job to make me feel comfortable and helping manage the symptoms and make it tolerable. Missing work and softball games were honestly the hardest part.”
From his diagnosis in March to remission in June, McFarland credits the community’s support. Softball coaches in the area helped raise money, including people from Casey-Westfield, Mattoon, Charleston, and Windsor-Stew Stras. All of these communities generated fundraisers.
McFarland goes back to calling it a complete blessing.
“It was crazy. I couldn’t believe how much support I received,” said McFarland. “I will never forget the love and support from my family, friends, and the Casey-Westfield community, as well as the surrounding towns. And also the constant feeling of reassurance that I believe came from my faith in Christ. I don’t think I would have been able to get through this without the people around me supporting me.”
McFarland said the one thing he will never take for granted is just being healthy, outside of the hospital, and the small parts of everyday life.
“I remember every time I was in the hospital looking out the window thinking I couldn’t wait to get back outside and back home to my daily life,” said McFarland. “I think what I have taken away is just to appreciate every day and not take the little things for granted. We get so busy and caught up in the little stresses that we forget to enjoy the moment. I look back and remember getting caught up in the stress and negativity of life here and there. Versus now, I just tell myself to appreciate everything.”
When it comes to appreciation, he will never forget to thank everyone around him.
“My family was amazing,” said McFarland. “My mom and dad came to every appointment. Sometimes, my mom slept on a hard chair for five days just to be in the same room as me. They didn’t want me to be alone. The people at Barnes made this experience as good as you could make it. The community where I teach and the surrounding communities were amazing. All of those people got me through this and I am forever grateful.”