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North Star’s Garrett Spicher takes nothing for granted after tumor scare

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Posted at 4:46 PM, Apr 29, 2021

HAVRE -- At first glance, Garrett Spicher would strike you as a typical athletic sophomore at North Star High School.

“I might not be winning anything, but I mean, just being out here and being in my element competing, I'm really thankful for that,” he said.

But look closer, and you’ll see a large scar behind his right ear. It’s a constant reminder for Spicher of what he went through and how far he’s come.

“It all really started in sixth grade when I was trying out for football and getting my sports physical. They found a tumor behind my ear,” Spicher recalled. “They took it out. And then halfway through my freshman season of football, they did another MRI and found out that it was growing back.”

Spicher was diagnosed with Sclerosing Polycystic Adenosis, a rare tumor that starts as an inflation of the salivary glands. The news ended his freshman sports season, but that was the least of his worries.

“It was painful. At one point if you touched it, I would pass out because it’s connected to the facial nerves and it was just affecting me horribly,” Spicher said.

Worse than the physical pain was the mental pain. The Spicher name is synonymous with athletic success on the Hi-Line, and all of a sudden Garrett was facing the possibility that he might never play again.

“It was really hard because a lot of people would try and relate and I felt kind of alone most of the time because some people didn't understand,” he explained. “It kept me up at nights, thinking about what could happen was just really scary.”

Eventually Spicher had surgery in Seattle in July of 2020. Doctors removed the tumor and placed tissue from his leg where his glands once were, so as not to leave his face with a dent. The operation was a success, but there are still lingering issues Spicher will have to manage for the rest of his life.

"I have some paralysis here, I can't feel a lot of my face. I don't have a lot of spit glands that are left anymore, so if I don't drink enough water during track I'll start to swell up,” he said. “And sometimes I just get like sharp shooting pains because of nerve damage. And where they took the tissue from my leg affects me a lot, especially in the triple jump and long jump. That's probably the biggest effect."

Following surgery, Spicher wasn’t allowed to lift or participate in strenuous activity for six months. As such, he missed his entire sophomore season of football. He dressed out every game and was on the sidelines to support his Knights teammates but wasn’t cleared to play.

After the fall sports season, Spicher was given the green light to return to competition and played a key role on the North Star basketball team during winter.

Now Spicher has returned to the track where he competes in the high jump, long jump, triple jump and the 4x400-meter relay. He has top-10 marks in District 9C in all of his events. His twin brother Gavin has watched Garrett go through trials and tribulations over the past two years and was glad to have him back as a member of the Knights.

"It was nice just to have him because he's a leader on and off the court and at practices,” Gavin said. “He goes hard. Every game, every practice he pushes me and everyone else to do our best.”

Sure, Garrett came out of his ordeal with new scars. But more importantly, he returned to competition with a new perspective.

“Don't take anything for granted,” Garrett said. “You don't know when that last time is going to be out on the court, on the field or on the track. Today could be my last meet and I don't even know it. So just don't take anything for granted.”

Garrett will make his return to the North Star football team in 2021.