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Originally published October 13, 2011 at 10:02 PM | Page modified October 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM

Steve Kelley

Former Washington basketball player Andrew Moritz won't give up in fight against cancer

Andrew Moritz, who played basketball at Washington from 1996 to 1999, has been told there are no more treatment options for a rare form of cancer he has been battling for three years.

Seattle Times staff columnist

quotes Hang in there Andrew! Everyone in the Husky nation is rooting for you. Read more
quotes Keep fighting, brother! Read more
quotes You are the biggest winner ever, I'm praying for you. Read more

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Two weeks ago, Andrew Moritz anxiously sat in his Houston doctor's office awaiting a new game plan for his ongoing fight against cancer.

The chemotherapy treatments he had undergone for almost three years no longer were working and now he was ready to hear about the next option.

He believed there always was another option. Another form of chemo, maybe. Another dose of radiation. Or maybe a more aggressive way to attack the disease.

Like a coach breaking down game tapes, his doctor would review his body scans, discuss possible procedures and decide on something that could work.

But this time Moritz's doctor told him they had run out of options.

"Andrew," she said, "I truly believe we've reached the point where I can no longer recommend treatment at all."

The room went dark. Moritz thought of all he had been through, all his family and friends had been through. He thought about the small successes during this three-year war and he knew, even if his doctor didn't, that he could continue the fight.

Andrew Moritz wanted what all of us want — more time.

"That was the most devastating thing anybody's ever told me in my life," said Moritz, a former point guard at Franklin High School and the University of Washington. "I was like, 'No way.' She mentioned the word hospice and I said 'No way. No way.'

"I mean there's still so much I want to do. I've got to see some of my other sisters get married. I've got to see my buddies' kids grow up. I'd like to get married some day and have kids. The word 'no' just kept coming into my head. 'No, no, no,' and I started crying uncontrollably."

Moritz asked his doctor dozens of questions. What about a liver transplant? Stem cell treatments? Freezing the tumors?

"It was no to everything," he said.

For almost three years Moritz, 33, has fought desmoplastic round cell tumor, a rare, aggressive, soft-tissue cancer, and he has attacked it the same way he attacked a zone press in college, the same way an athlete battles the odds in a big game.

And now, after hearing this devastating news and understanding how unambiguous it was, Moritz still is reacting like an athlete, refusing to quit, willing to try any kind of alternative healing process.

He wants to be Reggie Miller in that unforgettable 1995 playoff game against the New York Knicks — stealing inbounds passes, scoring eight points in the final 16.4 seconds, rallying the Indiana Pacers to an impossible win.

"As long as there are options out there, as long as I can walk and breathe, I just don't ever think it's over," he said. "I think I owe it, not just to myself, but to my family, to just not give up ever until the end.

"There's no quitting ever and I think that's what's been bothering me lately. I think some of the doctors I've been seeing lately have been quitting on the process early. But the athlete's reaction is always, 'How can I figure out another way?' "

I spent an hour last week with Andrew at his home near Roosevelt High School. Sitting on an ottoman in his living room, in a gray sweatshirt and jeans, he was full of life and, despite the recent diagnosis, still full of hope. He's realistic, but he's not resigned.

"At this point, I know that I'm not going to be trying anything that has a lot of percentages or a lot of history around it," Moritz said. "I'm looking at treatments that are in other countries (Mexico and Canada) that might not be FDA approved in the United States.

"This stuff is a leap of faith. You get people who say it's all a hoax. But there also are success stories. I guess my hope is that, because I have something so rare, it can be approached from a number of different angles. And maybe there's an angle that works for something so rare."

Untraditional treatments, however, are very expensive and not covered by insurance. Moritz needs help to continue his fight, so at Green Lake, a week from Saturday, local NBA and WNBA players and former teammates will be part of the MVP Challenge 5K run and walk. The event begins at 10 a.m. and proceeds will help Moritz pay for these treatments. Race organizers, including Washington assistant women's coach Adia Barnes, hope to attract 1,000 runners.

For more information, go to www.promotionevents.com

"I just want to keep maintaining and keep a decent quality of life," said Moritz, a guard at Washington from 1996 to 1999. "I want to get to a fourth year, a five, a six. I keep telling the doctors that they're wrong and I'm going to do everything I can to prove that they're wrong."

If he had believed his doctors three years ago, Andrew Moritz already would have died. He was told then that he probably had six months to live.

But he is an example of everything that is magical about the human spirit. Obviously he knows something about himself that even the doctors don't know. Even the best oncologists can't measure a person's resilience, a person's hunger to stay alive, a person's courage.

"My whole focus now is on how I can keep my life going," he said. "I don't feel horrible right now. I don't feel sickly. That's how this cancer works. But three weeks from now I could pass away. It erodes quickly at the end, but that's hard for me to envision right now."

As an athlete, a walk-on at Washington who eventually earned a scholarship, Moritz always believed he could outwork everyone. He could do more push-ups, run more lines, run one more set of stairs, stay on the floor after practice, shoot 100 more jump shots.

"I'm ready to outwork the cancer," Moritz said. "That's what's so frustrating about hearing the word 'hospice'. I mean, I did 38 rounds of chemo and never asked them to stop. I've never thought about losing during this whole process. Never thought about quitting. I still think that I'll make it. I feel like I'm a winner."

Believe me, Andrew Moritz is a winner.

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

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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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