Dance Marathon: Teen connects with Hawkeye wrestlers


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Dillyn Mumme was set to be the first freshman in his weight class to wrestle varsity at Mount Pleasant Community High School. In both his seventh- and eighth-grade seasons, Dillyn was never pinned.

But before the rising star had the chance to take the mat, a cancer diagnosis two years ago put his athletics plans on hold.

After two years of treatment for lymphoblastic leukemia, the 15-year-old Dance Marathon patient maintains a passion for anything sports-related and jumps at any opportunity to discuss the University of Iowa wrestling team, fishing, or hunting.

“They’ve just kind of kept me going,” Dillyn said about several Hawkeye wrestlers and coaches who visit him often at the hospital. “And I know some of the coaches use my story to inspire some of the wrestlers to try harder.”

Dillyn can easily rattle of the names of numerous Iowa wrestlers — who he calls “close friends” — and speaks fondly of the times when Hawkeye grapplers and staff brought him signed memorabilia or let him watch a practice, but he defers most questions about cancer to his mother, Tammy Mumme.

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During a recent visit to the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, the teenager joked about wanting to include a 6-foot-by-6-foot stuffed elk — which he shot — in the family’s Christmas photo.
His mother vetoed the idea.

The upbeat high-school sophomore does not dwell on his cancer diagnosis and these visits to doctors. Instead, he’s made a tradition of going to Buffalo Wild Wings after every treatment to order his favorite menu item: chicken strips.

But illness has put a damper on some of his passions. While contact sports are no longer an option, Dillyn still goes fishing and hunting, but with certain restrictions — he can’t touch any fish or the bait because of the risk of infection.

Still, the limitations haven’t stopped him from enjoying his hobbies. Earlier this year, he shot his first two bucks.

Throughout his experience with leukemia, Dillyn has become close with morale captain Andrew Brittain and found his place in the organization. During last year’s 24-hour Big Event, Dillyn spoke on the main stage, addressing the group of morale captains.

“I told them that they rocked, and without them, it would be a lot harder for us kids to go through this,” he said, thanking them for being “right there beside us all the way.”

Brittain said he tries to spend as much time as possible with Dillyn, often going to treatments with him and hanging out with him at the hospital. The two are “inseparable,” Mumme said.

“[Dillyn] has always been very, very, very positive,” said Brittain, a UI sophomore. “He gives us more of a morale boost than we give him.”

Dillyn said he loves being involved with an organization that has done so much for him and other cancer patients. He’ll speak at this year’s Big Event, too, taking the stage to the same song he did last year: Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock.”

“It’s a great program,” the brown-haired Dillyn said. “I think more kids should be involved in it. It does a lot for the kids at the hospital.”

Dillyn’s puzzling symptoms started after a wrestling practice two years ago.

He began experiencing chest pains, and after visiting several chiropractors with no answers, he told his parents about another problem he noticed: tiny red spots all over his legs.

After seeing Dillyn’s legs, a local doctor found Dillyn’s platelet count was dangerously low. Mumme said the doctor told them anything below 75,000 is unsafe — Dillyn was at a life-threatening 34,000.

“That freaked the crap out of me,” she said.

When conditions worsened, Dillyn was admitted to UIHC on Jan. 7, 2009, where doctors found his bone marrow 94 percent full of cancer cells. He began treatment immediately.

In typical wrestler fashion, he attempted to perform an escape move in the middle of a bone-marrow biopsy during his first week in the hospital because he was not fully sedated.

In the first year after his diagnosis, Dillyn spent 79 days in the hospital, and he has missed around 110 days of school. But he’s kept his grade-point average above 3.5, is a year advanced in math, and is enrolled in a college-level engineering class.

By the time he graduates from high school, his cancer treatment should be complete, Mumme said.
Throughout his treatment, Dillyn has kept a positive outlook.

“I’ve never seen the kid be down about something, even when he’s going through surgeries that aren’t pleasant,” Brittain said.

Mumme does her best to keep things positive, too. Such as when the day after his diagnosis, Dillyn asked if the doctors knew how he got cancer.

“No,” his mother told him. “You know how you like to help people and put everyone else before you and how you like to help kids and stuff?

“There will be somebody that cures cancer, and maybe it can be you.”

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