In the entertainment world the saying goes that the show must go on.
Even when you know, in Austin Hewitt’s case, that it’s the last time you’ll dance on a stage with the two legs you were born with.
Even when you know that in just two weeks doctors will amputate your left leg below the knee — because of cancer.
Even when you’re only 18 and you love singing and dancing in your high school show choir.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
“This is my last concert for a pretty long time,” the senior told the Indianapolis Star on Wednesday night before he and his fellow choir friends at Eastern High School in Greentown, Indiana, performed in the fall choral concert.
Hewitt was the one with the bald head among all those sequins.
“His baldness made him instantly recognizable, but his height and ferocious energy made him just as recognizable,” wrote the Kokomo Tribune.
Cancer invaded his life the day after prom in April 2016. The public has followed his progress through the “Austin Battles Cancer” series of stories on the website of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, where he’s been treated in Indianapolis.
Hewitt is known at the hospital as the “boy singing his way through bone cancer.”
The day after prom, according to one of the hospital’s posts, Hewitt noticed a sore on one of his big toes and wondered whether someone had stepped on it at the dance or he’d stubbed it, both of which would have been preferable scenarios to the diagnosis soon to come.
The sore swelled up. A doctor who thought it was gout gave him medicine for that, but the pain didn’t let up. An MRI and biopsy, according to the hospital, revealed a much harsher truth the day right before Labor Day: Hewitt had Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
The next month he spent his 16th birthday “getting his chemo port put in and having a bone marrow biopsy,” Dana Benbow, a senior journalist at IU Health, wrote on the hospital’s website.
“He spent countless days sick in his hospital bed, nauseous and weak. He had setbacks, the ones cancer throws at random, and spent time in intensive care.
“Through that first battle with cancer, his music and show choir group, Encore Singers, kept him going.”
Music is life to Hewitt; he’s held tight his show choir friends. On days he missed school — because of cancer — his chair in the choir room was left empty, waiting for him, according to the hospital.
“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” Hewitt told the Star. “They’re the people that make me want to get up and go to school every day.”
According to one of the hospital’s stories he’s been “belting out songs and dancing” since he was barely able to walk. He earned the nickname “Elvis” because, boy, could he swivel his hips.
At Eastern High “Elvis” pulled off the near-impossible and got into the elite show choir as a freshman.
“Austin lives and breathes dancing,” his mom, Tonya Hewitt, told the Star.
He made his mom schedule chemo treatments so he wouldn’t miss concerts, according to the hospital. He performed in the choir’s fall 2016 concert, pushing through pain, and limping.
“He was bound and determined he was going to sing and dance for that concert,” his grandmother, Linda Flodder, told the hospital. “He shoved that tumor into a pair of dress shoes and he danced. And I cried through the whole thing.”
At Christmas, he got the show choir to come to the hospital and sing with him. He’d written a song.
Actually, he rewrote a song.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas the doctor gave to me ... .2 interns running, 11 cups of pills, 10 perky nurses, 9 port accesses, 8 clinic visits, 7 games of bingo, 6 blood transfusions, 5 beeping monitors, 4 saline bags, 3 flu shots, 2 trays of food and a blood draw and an EKG.”
The hospital told Hewitt’s followers that he went into remission on June 20, 2017 — he got to ring the celebratory bell. Doctors had to amputate his big toe, but he was still dancing.
Then, the cancer came back, the hospital wrote in July. Another tumor, in the same foot. “This time the tumor is in the talus, the bone that makes up the lower part of his ankle joint,” the hospital reported.
Doctors hoped more chemo would shrink the tumor, according to the Star. They warned that amputation was a possibility, and then that became probable. Lose the leg or the cancer could spread, doctors told Hewitt, the Star reported.
But Hewitt’s not taking it as a showstopper.
“There’s this different side to it now,” the teen told the Star, “where I have to really, really soak every moment in, enjoy every practice, make every second count.”