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Originally published Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Ex-Huskies walk-on Moritz battles for his life

Andrew Moritz, a former walk-on basketball player at Washington and two-time high-school state champion at Franklin, is battling an aggressive, deadly form of cancer with the same determination and discipline that he learned to play basketball.

Seattle Times staff columnist

For all the planning we do in our lives, for all the road maps we follow and the deals we cut, there still is so much we can't control, so much of our lives that remains as mysterious as Stonehenge.

And as much as we stare into the future and set goals, both long term and short term, there are no guarantees. There is no magic formula to avoid the unexpected.

Andrew Moritz, a former walk-on basketball player at Washington and two-time high-school state champion at Franklin, was home from St. Louis last Christmas when he developed a stomach ache that turned into severe nausea and sent him to the emergency room.

A successful banker, Moritz, 30, had just rededicated himself to getting back into shape. He had lost 30 pounds and was feeling great. He figured the pain he was feeling was caused by some bad sushi or several Coronas.

But the pain got worse, and at the emergency room at Northwest Hospital that night his life was flipped upside down. A CT scan found tumors in his stomach.

Eventually, Moritz was diagnosed with desmoplastic small round cell tumor cancer. It is a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer. There are treatments, but no cure.

"When you're told there is no cure, you don't know how to react. You think, 'This can't be right,' " Moritz said Friday by telephone from his home in St. Louis after undergoing chemotherapy in Houston. "Since I've come back to St. Louis I've had a few of those days where I've thought, 'Gosh, I wonder how long I'm going to make it?'

" ... You have to let yourself have that emotion, but you also have to snap out of it, too, because you're not going to make it if you keep dwelling on it and thinking about it all the time."

His treatments have gone well, but the tumors can return with a vengeance. He said he has several growing tumors in his abdomen that demand his attention.

Moritz has gone about battling his disease the same way he prepared for basketball practices and games.

The lessons he learned while playing basketball are helping him cope with his cancer. His years inside the game have helped him maintain a positive attitude, and in the roughly 90 days since his diagnosis, he has battled his cancer with an athlete's heroism.

"What am I going to do to get out of this?" he has asked himself during one of his numerous pep talks. "Am I going to fight? Am I going to quit? Am I going to lie down? Am I going to let something beat me?"

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In the past three months he has heard from many of his former Huskies teammates — Bryan Brown, Thalo Green, Chris Thompson, Jan Wooten, Grant Leep. Former coach Bob Bender called him last week.

Former center Todd MacCulloch invited him over to the house to play pinball. Franklin coach Jason Kerr has offered his help, anytime, anywhere. And former Franklin teammate Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks texts Moritz every week.

"All of the support really gives you the courage to go, 'All right, I'm in a tough spot right now and everybody's looking at me to see what I'm going to do to get out of this,' " Moritz said. "I have to decide what I'm going to do to change my life."

Good friend Daniel Shapiro, the Sacramento Kings strength coach who survived throat cancer, has worked tirelessly with Moritz, answering questions and offering his unique perspective and encouragement. Moritz and Shapiro talk every day.

"I've gotten into the mindset that I'm going to do everything right," Moritz said. "I'm going to eat right. I'm going to exercise. I'm going to do everything the doctors tell me to do. Then I'm going to pray and ask for all of those things to align."

Moritz's friends and family have set up a table alongside a wall in the corridor at Edmundson Pavilion. They are seeking donations for his uncompensated care. They will be stationed there for the Huskies men's final three home games.

"Every day I'm just going to work hard, live hard and have a smile on my face and have a good attitude," Moritz said. "I've got to live for today."

One game at a time. One day at a time. The oldest sports clichés are, for former Husky Andrew Moritz, among his secrets to staying alive.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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