Ray Austin estimates he has been through amateur baseball wars on Sunday afternoons with the Fort Ripley Rebels for at least 12 seasons.
But the 27-year-old began the most significant battle of his life last Thanksgiving when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He underwent surgery Dec. 3 at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Brainerd.
Austin confronted his disease with a positive, aggressive attitude.
"My first reaction was how to get better," he said. "I never thought about (dying) but obviously the cancer was on my mind.
"The doctors were real great about it. They said this was something they've got a handle on now. My chances were always good. My outlook was always positive.
"According to my blood tests they got all the cancer with my surgery. My oncologist said if I took chemo there was a 5 percent chance it would come back. If I did not there was a 20 percent chance of reoccurrence. It was pretty much a no-brainer."
Austin, a project manager for Kueper's Construction in Baxter, experienced the usual side effects associated with chemotherapy. He lost his hair, was nauseous, lost his appetite and had pain.
"It kicks you," Austin said of the chemotherapy. "It destroys you. It took a while to get back."
The 1991 Brainerd High School graduate underwent his treatment in cycles. He would take three drugs on Mondays and two on Tuesdays through Fridays. He repeated the process three times in a 7-week period.
"Each week I had chemo I worked half-days," Austin said. "I would go to chemo at noon and go home. The week after chemo was the worst. I had no strength. That's when all the side-effects kicked in. The third week I started feeling better. I was able to go fishing on the weekend."
Austin was motivated by the recovery of a few prominent athletes from testicular cancer. Two-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has conquered the disease along with former Major League Baseball player John Kruk.
"They say about one in four men will get either testicular or prostate cancer," Austin said, "but you don't really hear about it. Women have the 'Race for the Cure' for breast cancer. Maybe men are afraid to talk about it."
Austin considered himself an easy-going individual before the cancer. Since the diagnosis he has made a point of not letting anything bother him.
"I was sitting in the chemo ward and realized how lucky I was," he said. "People were coming in there who were obviously much worse than I was, people who still had cancer.
"The most sobering thing in the whole ordeal was one day one of the nurses was talking about the funeral she went to for one of the people who used to come for treatments. That was about the only time I was actually depressed. But that probably coincided with the fact I was not feeling that great either."
Subsequent tests have indicated the cancer has been eradicated from Austin's body. He must undergo a checkup every three months for the next 3-5 years.
"The chance of reoccurrence exponentially diminishes every year you are clean," Austin said.
Baseball has served as therapy for Austin. The first baseman has not let the disease deter him. The left-hander is batting .430 in the No. 5 spot with eight home runs for the Rebels, who play Waterville in the Class C state tournament 5 p.m. Saturday at Sleepy Eye.
"Baseball gave me something to look forward to, something to get healthy for. I was weak at first so (Rebels manager Tim Veith) put me at designated hitter a couple games. And, he only played me one game if we had two."
The Rebels carry a 15-9 record on their way to their first trip to state since 1996.
"It's been a great season, this one especially more than others because of what I went through in the winter," Austin said. "The guys have been great."
Fort Ripley second baseman Neil Sather is one of the Rebels who has been understanding of Austin's ordeal. Sather is Austin's step-father.
"For a lot of the year he has played second and I have played first," Austin said. "People would ask me, 'How old is that guy?' I would tell them he's 47 and that he's been playing a long time. Then I would say, 'He's my dad.'
"Not many sons have a chance to play baseball with their dad. He's still productive. He's hit six or seven home runs this year. He has started almost every game. Next year my brother Jason will start playing too."
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