Moffat receives tremendous team and community support during cancer battle

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 27, 2013 

Lynden's Tristan Moffat runs on to the field with the rest of Lynden's football team before their state quarterfinal match against Sumner high school, Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, at Civic Field in Bellingham.

ALEX ROBERTS — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Sophomore defensive back and wide receiver Tristan Moffat, wrapped up in multiple sweatshirts with his green No. 27 jersey pulled over the top to help brave the chilly pre-winter Bellingham weather at Civic Stadium, stands along Lynden's sideline and watches the Lions' Class 2A State Playoff quarterfinal game like any other player unable to suit up.

He blends in seamlessly, walking up and down the sideline, talking and laughing with teammates and cheers when Lynden makes a big play. He's given many reasons to be excited this night against Sumner, a game the No. 2-ranked Lions won 54-21 on Friday, Nov. 22.

His teammates in his position group have a particularly big game, catching five touchdowns. Later, Tristan would get the opportunity at school to personally congratulate close friend and fellow wide receiver Jordan Wittenberg on his career night. Even his brother, junior Jared Moffat, makes a key momentum-shifting kickoff recovery.

Tristan cherishes moments like this.

But even though Tristan, who's played football since youth leagues were first available to him, hasn't seen a snap this season, his presence is symbolized on the field and throughout the stadium. His number and initials 'TM' are inscribed on shoes, and yellow and green 'Tristan Towels' hang from player's belt loops.

"It's pretty cool how supportive they all are," Tristan said. "The coaches have been really helpful, and what the captains have done in their speeches and stuff, saying, 'Let's do this for Tristan.'"

Still, his teammates can only hope to display a fraction of his courage in their play.

Tristan didn't choose not to play football. Misfortune struck just before the season started, hard luck that has turned Tristan and his family's world upside down for the past three months.

While the Lions will be heading across the state to play undefeated No. 3-ranked Ellensburg at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Lions Field in Moses Lake, Tristan will be at Seattle Children's Hospital continuing his battle with cancer.

Tristan noticed a lump developing on his abdomen during two-a-day practices in August and dismissed it as either a football or watercraft accident. But when it didn't go away, he decided to see his family doctor.

"First I thought it was an injury from inner tubing," he said. "A few weeks before it, I hit my side pretty hard. That's what we thought at first. There was a lump, but I didn't really think much of it."

No one in Tristan's family anticipated the news that soon came from their doctor.

Following a wait at the emergency room in Bellingham, Tristan and his family got word of his diagnoses at 2:30 a.m. and were immediately sent down to Seattle Children's Hospital.

"Oh crap," said Tristan of his reaction to hearing the news. "I wasn't really expecting it."

Even after learning his health was in peril, his love for football remained on his mind.

Marc Moffat, Tristan's dad, said simply not being able to play football this fall would have been a big enough blow, but having cancer on top of it all made it extremely hard to deal with.

Marc recalled a question Tristan had for him during their drive to Seattle Children's following the news, which came on a Friday during Labor Day weekend.

"I think the ER doctor came in at about 2:30 in the morning and said, 'You know, he has cancer, you guys need to go to Children's Hospital. Go home and pack up and drive down there,'" Marc recalled. "It was probably 3:30-4 in the morning, we're halfway to Seattle and Tristan says, 'So, does this mean I can't play in the scrimmage tomorrow?'"

Tristan was diagnosed with both a malignant and benign tumor, and although his mom, Denise Moffat, said she's preferred not to fully know Tristan's chances of beating his cancer, the doctors have given the Moffats a treatable prognosis. The laid out plan is for Tristan to undergo three to four, three-week chemotherapy sessions before having surgery in late December to remove the tumor.

While the ugliness of cancer has taken a toll physically and mentally on Tristan and his family, his battle has allowed the Lions' football team to make true on its family approach and has shown how Lynden's community rallies around those in need.

The Moffats have received an outpouring of support. The Lynden community has helped raise money through a gift-basket fundraiser, by selling yellow and green 'Tristan Towels' and by selling raffle tickets.

Up to 30 players have decided to shave their heads in support. Tristan recalled seeing a photo on Instagram while in Seattle with eight or so of his teammates displaying freshly buzzed heads.

"Some of my closer friends said they would do it," Tristan said," but I didn't think they were gonna. They did it, and I think 30 players did."

Even Ferndale, Lynden's biggest Whatcom County rival, heard of Tristan's battle and decided to wear all yellow to show support during their annual game back on Oct. 25.

Many teammates also write Tristan's initials and number on their shoes or tape before games, and Tristan said even the volleyball team surprised him by decorating his room the night before he returned from Seattle. Another source of strength has been motivational notes written by Tristan's teammates and coaches and sent to the hospital.

"A mom of a football player had brought a whole bunch of note cards to football practice," Denise explained. "They have team dinners Thursday night and all the football players and coaches signed these cards, and she's been mailing them to Tristan periodically. Yet another thing they did."

The game against Sumner that Tristan was present for marked the fourth time he's watched Lynden play this fall. He listens to games on the radio in the hospital and follows the team through social media when he can't be there.

Wittenberg said seeing his friend on the sideline always gives him a morale boost.

"It's great," said Wittenberg in a phone interview. "We talk about it at practice. We definitely go balls to the wall for him. When he's out there and we see him on the sideline, he is always smiling, and it means a lot to me."

For Jared, being able to see his brother on the sideline has also been especially rewarding. He said Tristan's cancer has been a truly eye-opening experience and a case of bad things happening to good people.

"I know it's Tristan's favorite sport," Jared said. "I mean, I do really enjoy the sport, but it's not like, I'm OK I guess. I know how bad he wanted to play, so it's like that drive. I'm the one who's able to do this, so I better put 100 percent out there and put everything into it."

Tristan's personality is more quiet and reserved. He doesn't seem to get too high or too low, and it's that steady attitude, combined with his team and the community's support, that has helped Tristan work through and stay positive during painful chemotherapy treatments.

Wittenberg has been inspired by Tristan's courage, but he hasn't necessarily been surprised by his positive attitude. Wittenberg has seen his friend overcome setbacks before, especially on the football field.

"Tristan was always the toughest guy on the team growing up," Wittenberg said. "He was always a little banged up, but he would continue to play."

Tristan is hoping to rid his cancer by the end of the year following surgery, and he said his ordeal has given him extra motivation to come back strong next year. He plans to run track in an effort to build speed, and he's anxious to put back on the weight he's lost during chemo.

He's also looking forward to getting back in school, spending time with his friends and putting his routine of three weeks in Seattle, one week back home in the past.

"I'm looking forward to it, just to be done with it and go back to school and be normal," Tristan said. "(I've learned) that things can change so quickly, from going to playing football to being in Seattle for a month."

When the Moffats were looking for a place to move 12 years ago, Marc said he thought Lynden "would be a pretty good place to live." They knew how tight-knit and warm the community was, but they have been overjoyed with the outpouring support they've been shown.

Denise explained, even though they've been living in the community for more than a decade, they don't have any family living in close proximity, but the Lynden Lions football team and those in the area have pleasantly made it feel like the Moffats aren't alone.

"I think the word 'family' gets a lot of banter, but this is a working example of what family is really all about," Lynden coach Curt Kramme said in a phone interview. "Maybe everyone wasn't best friends with Tristan or some maybe didn't know him, but when someone is in a tough spot and people are willing to do everything they can to help out, that is what defines a family."

Reach Andrew Lang at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.

PLAYOFF PAIRINGS

FOOTBALL

CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS

Saturday, Nov. 30

? Ellensburg vs. Lynden (at Lions Field in Moses Lake), 1 p.m.

CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS

Saturday, Nov. 30

? Cascade Christian vs. Mount Baker (at Tacoma Dome), 1 p.m.

CLASS 1B STATE PLAYOFFS

Friday, Nov. 29

? Neah Bay vs. Lummi (at Tacoma Dome), 4:30 p.m.

ELLENSBURG VS. LYNDEN

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

Site: Lions Field in Moses Lake

Bulldogs update: No. 3-ranked Ellensburg (12-0) beat Othello 20-13 during the quarterfinal round of the Class 2A State Playoffs last week in Ellensburg. The Bulldogs' 20 points was their lowest output of the year, but they relied on the legs of running back Gabe Caskey, who rushed for a career-high 211 yards, to grind out a win. Caskey rushed for two TDs and also caught three balls for 75 yards. Ellenburg's defense limited Othello to 174 yards and recorded three interceptions. The defensive unit has held opponents to one touchdown or less eight times this season and gave up a season-high 43 points to Prosser, which is playing in the other 2A semifinal.

Lions update: No. 2-ranked Lynden (12-0) beat Sumner 54-21 during the quarterfinal round of the Class 2A State Playoffs last week at Civic Stadium. The Lions started fast, leading 28-0 before the end of the first quarter, and their 54 points was a season high. Quarterback Sterling Somers had a career day, completing 13 of 19 passes for 276 yards and five touchdowns. Scooter Hastings caught five balls for 124 yards and two scores, and Jordan Wittenberg broke out with five catches for 123 yards and one TD reception. Running back Trent Postma rushed for a team-high 95 yards and two touchdowns during the lopsided win.

Player to watch: Safety Lucas Petersen, who coach Curt Kramme billed an all-state caliber defensive player, returned last week and made an immediate impact. He recovered a fumbled that lead to an offensive score and later intercepted a pass. His presence adds to an already stout Lynden defense.

Key to the game: Offenses haven't been able to find much of any success against Lynden's defense. It would be absurd to expect the Lions' offense to replicate last week's aerial assault, but the early points quickly put the game away. Lynden would love nothing more than a fast start following a four-hour plus bus ride to the east side of the state.

Key to the game: Ellensburg running back Gabe Caskey ran for 211 yards last game and helped carry the Bulldogs to a win. Only twice have teams run for more than 200 yards against the Lions, and no one has run for more than 219 yards. Jaremy Martin and Trent Postma are two of the best linebackers in the Northwest Conference and will need to play another great game.

Key to the game: Coach Curt Kramme was thrilled with Jordan Wittenberg's 123-yard performance last week. He gives the Lions' passing attack a quick, game-breaking receiver who works well out of the slot. If Jalani Phelps and Scooter Hastings weren't enough for secondary's to focus on, Wittenberg's emergence gives Lynden another weapon quarterback Sterling Somers can utilized against Ellensburg's secondary.

Herald's pick: Lynden 28-14

Reach ANDREW LANG at andrew.lang@bellinghamherald.com or call ext. 862.

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