Over the past four months, Leslie Fisher has learned more than she really wanted to know about mucoepidermoid carcinoma and more than she could have ever imagined about the human spirit.

Her son, Wyatt, was the starting catcher on Byng’s Class 4A state tournament squad last spring as a freshman before he suffered a late-season knee injury, and he had planned to be back behind the plate when the Pirates began defense of their fall state baseball title. But early in August, Wyatt noticed a knot behind his right ear.

“The doctors said he would have surgery (to remove what they thought to be a benign tumor) and he would be back at school in a couple of weeks,” recalled Leslie Fisher, who is manager of attorney services at Pre-Paid Legal Services. “During the surgery, that’s when they realized it was cancer. The previous doctor had said (the tumor) was benign.

“We were shocked, because we were prepared for surgery and a short recovery period,” she added. “We had no idea that the tumor was cancer.”

A week after the Aug. 5 surgery, Wyatt went for a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan, which confirmed that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” Leslie Fisher said. “The worst call you can get is that your child has been in an accident and didn’t survive, but the second worst thing you can hear is that your child has cancer. It’s devastating.”

When the shock wore off, she began to educate herself about her son’s disease and was surprised at what she learned.

“We found out that the kind of cancer he has is extremely rare,” she said. “It’s typically an old person’s cancer — most people who have it are at least 60 years old. Only 20 children in the country had it last year.

“There’s no protocol for treating it, because it’s so rare in children,” she added. “It takes 100 cases to come up with a treatment program, so anything they try is just their best guess.”

Facing a guessing game with the highest of stakes, Leslie Fisher began searching for the hospital that would give her son his best chance to beat an opponent much tougher and more dangerous than any he had seen on a baseball diamond. After considering both Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, the Fishers settled on M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.

“I studied all three hospitals, and Sloan-Kettering had had only one child patient with this in the last two years, so that narrowed it down to St. Jude’s and M. D. Anderson, and we decided to go to Houston because it was closer,” Leslie Fisher recalled.

The Fishers’ trip to Houston was delayed a week because they were due to leave the weekend Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast. Then, after two weeks of prep work, Wyatt underwent six tough weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. During his two months in Houston, he lost 30 pounds (down to 125), and he said the treatments also affected his taste buds.

“Some foods taste really bad, and others you can’t taste at all,” he explained. “It makes eating not very fun. My taste buds still aren’t totally normal, but they said everything should come back in a few weeks.

“The middle was the toughest part of the treatment,” Wyatt added. “At the beginning you haven’t had the effects of the treatment, and at the end you’re close to going home. In the middle, you still feel bad but you know you still have a long time to go.”

Leslie Fisher spent the entire eight weeks at the hospital with Wyatt — minus a few weekend trips by the pair back to Oklahoma — and said his guitar (which he has played for five years) provided a barometer to how well her son was feeling.

“Most days he didn’t feel well enough to play, but it was a good indicator that he was having a good day when he felt good enough to get up and play the guitar,” she recalled.

And through Wyatt’s love of music, his fellow students at Byng High School found a way to show their support.

Clay Plunk, one of Wyatt’s best friends on the baseball team and a novice guitarist himself, came up with the idea of putting guitar picks with the word “Fish” printed on them on the shoes of the Pirate baseball squad to show support, then he saw his brainstorm mushroom into one of the area’s biggest fashion statements this fall.

“When I heard about Wyatt, I thought we should do something to get people thinking about him and praying for him,” Plunk recalled. “We started by putting the picks on the shoes of the baseball team, then the girls wanted them for the softball team. The other kids at school started asking about them, and it just exploded.”

By late August, more than 1,500 of the heart-shaped picks had been sold at $1 apiece (with the proceeds going toward Wyatt’s medical expenses), and the majority of Byng students were wearing them around their necks every day. Less than four months later, more than 7,400 have been sold, and the customer base has expanded to at least 14 other high schools, including Allen, Holdenville, Stonewall, Latta and Dale. Plunk said Pick World — a Delaware-based company that now supplies the picks free of charge — recently sent him 1,500 more.

“We sent out emails to all the pick companies we could find on the internet,” he recalled. “(Pick World) jumped on board and started helping us, and now they supply all of them.”

Plunk and another member of the baseball team, Preston Petty, also spent a few days in Houston during Wyatt’s stay, for “moral support”.

“It was hard to see him in pain, but we had faith that everything was going to be okay,” Plunk recalled. “He didn’t want us to see him like that, but he knew that we were so close to him that it didn’t bother us.”

In October, the Fishers caught an “Angel Flight” (a program where pilots donate their time to fly sick kids) to Oklahoma City to pay a surprise visit to the Byng baseball team on the day the Pirates were eliminated by eventual champ Dale in the semifinals.

“Clay and Preston and several of his closest friends talked to him on the phone the night before, and he told them to do their best and win the game for him,” Leslie Fisher recalled. “They didn’t know he was coming. He wanted to surprise them.

“Our flight was a little late arriving in Oklahoma City, so it was the third inning when we finally got there,” Leslie Fisher recalled. “He was hoping that his being there would encourage them to play hard and win, but they were already behind when we got there.”

Although Wyatt missed the fall campaign and part of the Pirates’ state tournament run last spring, he expects to be back next spring, when Byng will be among the favorites for a 4A baseball title.

“I think about playing every day,” said Wyatt, whose father, David, owns Farmers Insurance Group of Ada. “Even practice. I used to hate practice, but now I want to go. Even the same old boring stuff sounds good, because I’m not taking it for granted any more.

“We’re talking about starting a throwing program to get my arm back in shape when I go back to school after Christmas,” he added. “It will still be the off-season, but I can run with the team and get back in shape.”

“Baseball is one of the loves of his life, and it’s been hard on him not to be able to play — he misses it a lot,” Leslie said. “His goal and coach (Kevin) Wilson’s is to get him strong enough to play next spring,” she continued. “He’s lost 30 pounds, so he has a lot of restoring to do before he’s ready, but that’s his goal.

“He has a strong leadership position on the team, even as young as he is,” she continued. “The other players respect him for who he is.”

Wyatt is due to return to Houston on Dec. 27 for follow-up tests, and, because his form of cancer “usually returns within five years”, he will have check-ups every six months after that. But despite working through the toughest time of her life, Leslie Fisher remains confident in her son’s full recovery and added that the past few months have been an awakening for her.

“M. D. Anderson is a very scientific hospital, so their perspective and our perspective are very different,” she noted. “Their perspective is very pessimistic, but we have faith in the Lord that this cancer has been healed. We’re very optimistic about the future.

“He was put on prayer lists across the country, and we had thousands of peole praying for him in a very short period of time,” she added. “The outpouring of support from all over the state has been overwhelming.

“When something difficult like this happens, it’s not something you want to go through, but knowing that somebody will probably come to know the Lord because of it makes it easier.”