GOSHEN — It’s a rare occasion when an injury sustained on a football field turns out to be a good thing. For 14-year-old Northridge Middle School student Will Mishler, however, it was a play at football practice that led to a startling, but important, discovery.
After being tackled awkwardly during Northridge Middle School’s Aug. 27 practice, Will began experiencing neck pain, leading his mother, Amy, to take him to Bristol Street Pediatrics for an examination.
The pediatrician suggested, since Will had pain in his neck, that he get an X-ray at Elkhart General Hospital. Will also received a CT scan at Elkhart General. The tests showed a large mass that had grown on one of Will’s lungs.
After several more tests, it was concluded that the mass was not filled with liquid and was not a cyst, but was instead ganglioneuroblastoma, a form of nerve cancer.
“That was probably the worst low the whole time, just hearing those words. ‘He has a mass,’” said Jim Mishler, Will’s father.
“It was a big blow to our family,” Amy Mishler added.
Surgeons removed the tumor Sept. 20 at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. “It was like a big baked potato,” Amy said.
The cancer diagnosis only confirmed his mother’s worries. She said that as soon as she heard there was a mass on her son’s lung, she was quite certain that it was a tumor.
Over the last several weeks, Will has been recovering from the surgery, regaining strength and stamina and is scheduled to return to school today, though potentially for only part of the day.
Though his spirits seem high, the journey is far from over.
Amy Mishler, who has worked in the medical field for more than 20 years, said ganglioneuroblastoma is an intermediate cancer and can either be contained to one area or can spread.
Since his surgery, Will has continued to undergo testing, including bone marrow testing, bone scans and a neuroblastoma-specific scan, for which Will said he had to “drink this nasty stuff” in order to see whether or not the cancer has spread.
As a result of the surgery, Will also now suffers from an eye disorder known as Horner’s syndrome. The nerve that fed the tumor was apparently loosened during the surgery, leading to a difference in pupil size and a drooping eyelid from time to time. He said his vision has been impacted slightly by the disorder but that his vision is mainly still fine.
For the time being, Will is going through therapy, but has not begun treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Those treatments may not be necessary if it is found that the cancer was contained to the area and has not spread.
For now, Will must be re-evaluated every three months to see if the cancer has regrown or spread, so the family now describes the process as “a waiting game.”
Paying Will’s medical bills will be difficult.
Amy Mishler does not carry her own health insurance and Jim Mishler has recently started a new job at a fledgling RV company that isn’t yet able to provide the level of benefits required for such a trying time.
Help may be on the way, though, as a fundraising dinner has been scheduled for Nov. 30 before the Northridge varsity boys basketball game. All proceeds will go to help pay for Will’s medical costs. Other fundraisers are in the planning stages. The Will Mishler Cancer Fund has also been established at Lake City Bank in Middlebury to help offset those costs.
Dealing with the weight of the situation is still a struggle for the family as well.
“Mentally and emotionally sick, I felt,” Amy Mishler said. “And I still feel mentally and emotionally, almost to the point of, will I be able to be strong for him?”
Jim Mishler became emotional while likening the experience to losing control of a vehicle. “You can feel confident and in control,” he explained, “and suddenly you’re on black ice and you’re in a spin and you’ve lost control and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The experience has left the family with a new perspective on life and they are thankful for things that may not have seemed so positive in the first place.
“He got hurt for a reason,” said Will’s sister, Kristyn.
“We’re living on faith day by day,” Jim Mishler added. “We’re just thankful that we found it and it did not go any farther.”
Besides the Will Mishler Cancer Fund at Lake City Bank, those wishing to donate to help the Mishler’s with Will’s medical bills can do so at gofundme.com.