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Daniel Determan and Tom Mix / Forum News Service, Published February 01 2014

West Fargo wrestler battles after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer

Fargo - Drawing tough matches is nothing new for West Fargo junior wrestler Keegan Cronin.

He has met plenty of competitors on the mat, but Cronin is currently matched up against his toughest opponent to date.

Earlier this month, Cronin, 16, was diagnosed with Stage 4 testicular cancer and began chemotherapy last week at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.

A nagging groin injury suffered earlier this season was where it all began.

While sparring with his older brother, Reed, at practice shortly before Thanksgiving, Keegan injured his testicle, and for a few weeks, he shook off the nagging pain he felt.

“I thought it would go away after a while, but it just didn’t,” Cronin said. “Right before the Rumble (on the Red in late December), I decided to get checked out by a doctor. That led to an exploratory surgery later that night. They didn’t find anything, so they told me to rest it and come back in two weeks. They looked at it again, and said it had actually gotten worse.”

The decision was made that the testicle had to be removed. After running pathology tests on it, doctors confirmed that Cronin had cancer.

Further tests revealed that the cancer had spread to his lungs and lymph tissue.

Keegan was overwhelmed at first and took the news fairly hard, as did his parents, Jim and Pam.

“I was shocked,” Jim said. “I got the call, and the urologist told me, ‘There is really no way to mince words about this.’ ”

Upon sitting down as a family to discuss matters, the four Cronins all decided to meet with the doctor together.

“I think it was valuable that we all went, because there is a genetic predisposition,” Jim said. “When that is the case, it’s important for anyone to do a self-check, and I just don’t think adolescents do that. I think that shook Reed a little bit.”

Reed initially felt guilty, as he caused Keegan’s injury at practice, but now his family sees that injury in a different – and much more positive – light.

“It was really a blessing,” Jim said. “When it happened, Reed had thought he took him out for the season and was feeling bad about it. As time went on, and we found out this, we realized that ruptured testicle exposed the cancer. It wouldn’t have been revealed. It could have taken a few years, and he is already at Stage 4. This could have been a lot worse. Now, we can say Reed saved his life with that.”

Cronin is the No. 4-ranked wrestler in the state at 113 pounds, but he will not be able to compete the rest of the season due to his continuing treatment schedule.

While undergoing chemotherapy, Cronin was warned he could expect some nausea, headaches and mouth sores, but has not experienced many side effects yet. He has been repeatedly urged by doctors and nurses not to “tough it out,” and to report any discomfort he may feel.

Despite the cancer having spread to his lungs, Keegan feels fortunate that it was caught before it had reached other vital organs, most notably the brain and liver.

What Cronin does have is relatively treatable. Jim said the prognosis is good.

That fact, among other things, provides the Cronins not only with confidence he can beat this, but also hope.

“With testicular cancer, there is a possibility to cure it,” Jim said. “What we have been told is that if you are going to have cancer, skin cancer would probably be No. 1 and testicular cancer is No. 2, and because it hasn’t metastasized to the brain, this is something he can lick.”

Another thing giving them hope is the tremendous groundswell of support they have received from the wrestling community, especially that of his teammates.

“The team fixture (at West Fargo) is one of the strongest in North Dakota,” Keegan said. “It’s really nice to have them behind me for this.”

T-shirts with the script “Take it down Keegan” are being printed and are expected to be distributed later this week.

“It is all about support,” West Fargo head coach Kayle Dangerud said. “That is how the kids have responded. There has been no negativity. We are here to help him fight through it. That’s what we are doing and that is what we will continue to do.”

Determan is a sports reporter for the West Fargo Pioneer.

Mix is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.