The hollow ring of an aluminum bat pierced the air as Taylor Musser began a full-force sprint toward first base. His father, the first base coach during the inning, patted him on the back after the excitement died down.
It was the Germantown Athletic Club’s 8 and Under Championship between the Cubs and the Orioles, and Taylor had already hit a batter home and made a diving catch for an out, but less than two months ago he had a tumor larger than a tennis ball in his brain.
In March and April, Taylor, 8, began suffering from severe headaches, according to his father Jason Musser. On April 18 he was taken to the hospital where Taylor was diagnosed with an ependymoma, a malignant brain tumor.
“I was a little scared,” the Germantown resident and Orioles’ player said, shrugging it off.
Every year more than 4,200 children are diagnosed with brain tumors in the United States. It is the third most common form of cancer in children under 18, according to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and the National Cancer Institute. One in 11 of those tumors are ependymomas.
Taylor’s best friend Jacob Combs, 8, of Germantown was heartbroken, his mother Jackie Combs said, as she fought back tears. Jacob is Taylor’s neighbor and has known him since they were 1. “They do everything together,” she said of the two boys, who both attend S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School.
Ependymomas are usually found in the lower part of the brain, however, Taylor’s was located in the upper part of his brain, his father said. Ependymomas are most often removed by surgery, according to the NCI. The Mussers had the option of using radiation, but decided against it.
Taylor’s coach Richard Martinez sat the team down to explain what was going on. “I basically told them there was something growing in his [Taylor’s] head,” he said. The team printed “T” patches for their uniforms to show their support.
On April 25, Taylor was taken into surgery to remove the tumor. The location in the upper part of the brain made it easier to reach for the surgeons, but its vicinity to the motor cortex made surgery risky, for fear that Taylor may lose feeling or control in his limbs.
After four-and-a-half hours of surgery, Taylor emerged from the operating room. He spent two nights in the hospital after the surgery and then was able to go home.
“Technically he is cancer free now,” said Taylor’s father. The cancer has a 20 to 30 percent chance of reoccurring, and Taylor will have regular check-ups for the next 10 years.
Word started going around about Taylor’s story and soon, through some friends, Randy Edsall, the University of Maryland, College Park head football coach, heard about Taylor.
Alex Twine, the 6-foot Maryland linebacker from Gaithersburg, came to visit Taylor, giving him a autographed football from the entire team and an invite from Edsall to visit a Maryland game.
The GAC baseball community chipped in as well. The team playing against his in the championship, the Cubs, signed a card and the coach made a speech in his honor. “I barely knew him, but I was in tears giving him the card. He just smiles through all of it, “ said Jim Weber, coach of the Cubs.
Now Taylor is a regular kid again. His hair has grown back from the surgery and his favorite position on his team is second base.
He loves the Washington Nationals and their first baseman Adam LaRoche. Despite missing eight games because of the cancer, Taylor has a .923 batting average with no strikeouts. He played in the all-star game and as of Thursday night is part of the Under 8 champion team. The Orioles beat the Cubs 11-8 at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School’s baseball field.
“It’s amazing how close the team has come and rallied around [Taylor]. I think it helped us win the championship,” Martinez said.
Next year most of the team, including Taylor, will be moving up to kid-pitch baseball together as a team.