Coach Colin Griffin, Avery, Tina & Henry Teed at CCA Walk & Mass for Joy: Sept. 2021
Avery Teed loves five things a whole lot: His family, friends, Boy Scouts, Edison High School, and baseball. In early June of 2021, at the end of the baseball season, Avery had some soreness in his right arm, which was pretty swollen. He figured it was related to overpitching. Avery’s mom Tina recalls that due to COVID, it was tough to get in to see a doctor. When they finally got an appointment, the doc said the problem appeared to be a “tight deltoid.” Avery got an xray, which proved inconclusive. Then Avery’s arm swelled up like a melon, and he went to the emergency room. When Avery’s dad called Tina to say that a scan showed that Avery had a tumor, she was driving past Detroit Lake with Avery’s younger brothers Henry and Riley. Tina started to feel dizzy and to shake, and had to pull over. This was all happening very fast—much too fast.
Avery was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer. Surreal days blurred together in the summer 2021 haze, as Tina and Avery made the daily journey to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Avery had to start chemo, right away. He was not quite 15.
The chemo sessions commenced, and suddenly, “even cheeseburgers smelled horrible,” says Avery. He gritted his teeth and set in for a long, hard stretch. The Teed family is tough, but their world felt like it was reeling off its axis. Tina started a Caringbridge site to update friends and family on Avery’s diagnosis and prognosis, and to ask for support. As the word spread, friends began to rally around the family.
On July 24, Avery’s cancer doctor came into his hospital room with some “hard news.” Avery did not know what to expect. Then the doctor dropped a bombshell: They had to amputate Avery’s right arm in order to save his life.
It took a second for reality to sink in: he was going to lose his arm. His pitching arm. Says Avery, “I thought the doctor was joking until I saw my dad’s face.” The medical student in the room was in tears, as was Tina, who says the room started to spin. But she had to stay strong for her beloved, and suddenly very vulnerable, oldest boy.
To prevent the cancer from spreading, the doctor explained, the surgery had to happen quickly. It was scheduled for three days after Avery’s 15th birthday. As he processed the doctor’s message, Avery broke down in his mother’s arms. Avery is an incredibly positive guy who doesn’t cry a lot, but this was life-changing news for a kid who had only recently learned that what he thought was a sore pitching arm was really bone cancer. Chemo had just started. But…amputation? Of his pitching arm?
Avery’s pals from his Garden Home neighborhood, the Edison High community, Jesuit baseball family (Avery was on the JHS freshman team at the time), and many more friends immediately sprang into action. On July 27, 2021, Avery’s 15th birthday, the word went out that there was going to be a “birthday parade” by Avery’s house. “We figured there would be a few cars going by, honking and waving—maybe for 10 or 15 minutes,” says Tina.
Instead, Avery’s birthday party lasted an hour and a half. Friends, Edison teachers, Jesuit staff, and… at least 14 police vehicles, three fire trucks, and a SWAT team came rolling by. There were balloons and honking horns and streamers and signs of support.
Avery and his family stood outside under a tent, masked and waving, as dozens of friends as well as members of local police and fire departments showed their support for Avery in a joyous, colorful, cacophonous cavalcade. Reports Avery, “The parade just kept going on and on—old friends from Montclair, Edison teachers, baseball players. The coolest part was the SWAT team and the Life Flight crew—especially when they gave me some of their stickers!”
As daunting as the approaching surgery was, Avery at least knew he was not heading into it alone. The folks at the Portland-based Children’s Cancer Association heard of Avery’s case and that one of Avery’s (and Tina’s!) favorite songs is “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns ’n Roses, so CCA’s music therapists created a video compilation of “Happy Birthday,” “Today is Your Birthday” by the Beatles, and “Sweet Child” by GNR.
As he faced surgery on July 30, Avery had already begun to come to terms with his new reality: “I knew the amputation needed to happen to save my life. Afterward, I knew I’d be ok… except for having to learn to do everything left-handed.”
The surgery was successful, though the team of dedicated specialists took hours as they performed their work with precision, seeking a “clean margin” in Avery’s right shoulder, a point where the cancer could no longer be found. Avery went into healing and rehab mode, and stayed out of the sunshine. There would be no summer baseball, no Boy Scouts, but there would be lots of family time, and visits from a few close friends. As if recovery from shoulder disarticulation surgery, followed by chemo, was not enough, this all took place in the context of COVID and real concerns about infection.
Tina had contacts at the the Sam Day Foundation, which funds research on pediatric cancer. So around Labor Day of 2021, Tina and some friends organized a Sam Day Walk for Avery on the Jesuit track, in which many Edison staff and families participated.
In addition to his battle with cancer, Avery has dyslexia, which has made school very challenging for him, especially in middle school. Knowing he had to stay home to recover, Edison’s teachers worked with Avery, offering him alternative ways to demonstrate his considerable intellectual prowess until he could finally return to campus. “I really do love the school,” says Avery of Edison. “The teachers are awesome, and always find ways to let me show that I am smart.”
Along his incredible journey, Avery has had support from a number of mentors, including the terrific Edison High School faculty. But two men in particular, Jesuit head baseball coach Colin Griffin and Doernbecher Hospital Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Dana Braner, have been especially meaningful mentors in Avery’s life.
Says Avery, “I didn’t know what to expect after surgery. But Coach Griff immediately invited me to rejoin the team, and ‘my boys’ (his baseball teammates) gave me hugs when I finally came back to school. Their warm welcome really made me want to come back to campus to see them. That was a huge motivator for me.”
On September 26, 2021, at the annual Walk and Mass for Joy for the Children’s Cancer Association, Coach Griffin spoke about what Avery’s example of toughness, positivity, and determination meant to him personally, and to the whole community, as Avery, Tina, and Henry (and hundreds more) looked on in tears.
“Coach Griff spoke from the heart at that Mass,” says Avery. According to Tina, “That speech, and all of Coach Griff’s support, means the world to Avery. Every time Coach Griff made the effort to seek Avery out, at lunchtime, on the field, and even at our house, Avery just lit up! I call it the healing power of baseball.”
Another important mentor in Avery’s life is Dr. Dana Braner. Ever since he was a little boy, Avery has wanted to be a pediatrician. When Avery told Dr. Braner that he thought his missing arm would preclude him from pursuing his dream, Dr. Braner said, “Actually, I think a lot of kids could relate to a doctor just like you.”
Now, less than a year after that devastating diagnosis and the surgery that removed Avery’s right arm, Avery says, “I am still planning to be a pediatrician. I think not having an arm may make me seem less intimidating and more relatable to my patients.” It may help that Dr. Braner has taken Avery on as a “pediatric intern” at Doernbecher. He even presented Avery with a doctor’s vest with the Doernbecher logo, Avery’s name and "Pediatrician 2B" emblazoned on it. That is a rare honor, one Dr. Braner does not bestow lightly.
Even in the midst of all this support, the reality of what he has lost to cancer is omnipresent in Avery’s life. Having no right arm makes baseball a whole lot tougher, especially for a righty pitcher and outfielder.
But for Avery, hope abounds: On Tuesday, May 17, 2022, in the penultimate JV baseball game of the year, Avery trotted on to the field to play in the outfield (Avery has learned to catch the ball in the glove in his left hand, flip the glove and ball in the air, catch the ball, and throw it lefty!).
Then, less than a year after losing his right arm to osteosarcoma, Avery came up to bat in a high school baseball game. No, there was no homerun, but the victory that Avery won that day reverberates much further and deeper than any walk-off homer ever could.
Says Head JV Coach Luke Peevyhouse, “After all he endured, Avery showed up every day and went to work. He did whatever his coaches asked him to do with a smile on his face, day in and day out.”
Now, Avery has a full summer planned: After summer baseball, Avery heads off to serve as a counselor at Boy Scout Camp on the Oregon coast—and when he mentions both, he has a smile on his face. In between, Avery will be the star attraction of a Hillsboro Hops game on June 24, as the special guest of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
You can reserve tickets at https://offer.fevo.com/game-37-ron-tonkin-field-jgjg9cx-ba87f33
So the next time you feel yourself tested and your resilience wearing down, when you need a shot of hope in a broken world, consider the story of the Amazing Avery Teed. Or better yet, come on out to Tonkin Field on June 24 and catch a little of Avery’s bravery. We cannot wait to see what the next few innings will bring!
To learn more about SetPath, go to http://setpath.org/