Fighter Round

Each year, we honor several local people who battled cancer by making them Honorary Captains of the tournament. By doing this, we bring the focus back to why we're joining forces and raising lots of money-to get rid of this terrible disease called cancer. The Fighter (or a family member) plays a game of bean bags in our Fighter/Survivor Round along with a local celebrity of their choice. We will also share some stories about these Fighters' battles with this awful disease. Please join us in celebrating these Fighters' journeys by cheering them on during their games

Last Years Honorary Captains were:

John "Charlie" Thomas

According to his mother, Crystal, 7 year-old Charlie Thomas has always been a smart, witty, and charming little boy. Charlie is quick to figure out a solution to any problem put in his way. He has the ability to capture the hearts and attention of everyone around him. Yet, in February of 2016, Charlie's 1st grade teacher at Flynn Elementary School began to notice that Charlie was not being his charismatic, entertaining self. He was acting very lethargic and he appeared quite pale. She alerted Crystal and his father, J.C., of the symptoms she noticed. On February 13th, 2016, they went to check on Charlie in his bedroom. They were heartbroken to find a limp, pale, and slightly blue-tinged Charlie.

They immediately took him to their local emergency room. Upon admittance, he was found to have a very low hemoglobin level of 4.1. A normal hemoglobin level is above 10.0. Charlie was given two units of blood, and diagnosed with a rare form of non-cancerous anemia called Transient Erythroblastopenia of childhood, or TEC. After Charlie's hemoglobin returned to a normal level, he was dismissed and instructed to return if he experienced any further issues. A few weeks later, Charlie was once again appearing pale and tired. His parents took him back to his pediatrician and found that his hemoglobin had dropped. Charlie received another blood transfusion to help raise his hemoglobin.

On March 21st, 2016, Charlie was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. After a few tests, Charlie was diagnosed with Leukemia, a cancer of the blood. Charlie was immediately set up for chemotherapy treatments in an attempt to rid his body of cancer. After treating Charlie for 10 months with chemotherapy alone, his team of doctors realized the only way to achieve a cancer free diagnosis would be to move forth with a bone marrow transplant. Both of Charlie's younger siblings, Alan, 6, and Ava, 4, were tested with a blood draw to see if they could be a match for their brother. Amazingly, both Alan and Ava were matches and the doctors decided that, of the two siblings, Alan would be the best candidate for Charlie's transplant.

On February 3rd of 2017, Charlie was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at St. Marys Hospital. Here, the goal was to completely wipe out Charlie's immune system by undergoing two days of high-dose chemotherapy along with six full-body radiation sessions. On February 9th, Charlie's younger brother was brought to the operating room, placed under sedation and had some of his bone marrow removed from his hip. Then, they transferred Alan's healthy marrow to Charlie through a special IV, similar to receiving a blood transfusion. At the time of writing this biography, Charlie is in the transplant unit of the PICU. He has very limited visitation for about three weeks as he waits for the transplanted bone marrow to create his "new" immune system. If this process is successful, Charlie would be considered "cured" of this disease. However, due to how difficult the leukemia was to treat with chemotherapy alone, there is the potential for it to return. At this point, all Charlie's family, friends and care team can do is pray for the best as they wait out this process.

Due to his chemotherapy, Charlie has spent multiple holidays and his 7th birthday in the hospital. During these long stays in the hospital, Charlie has had the opportunity to befriend his entire care team. He captures the hearts and attention of everyone he comes in contact with. When Charlie flashes that bright, wide smile, you can't help but smile along with him. One of the most difficult stays in the hospital was in December of 2016. Charlie and his Mom spent over a month in a secluded hospital room due to Charlie receiving a high-dose chemotherapy treatment. This high-dose treatment reduced Charlie's immune system for such a prolonged period of time that it was not safe for him to come out of the specially-filtered hospital room. It was not the ideal way to celebrate the Christmas season. Thankfully, the amazing attitudes and affection that the care team showed Charlie and his family during this time made the stay bearable, and sometimes, even fun. And believe it or not, Santa Claus was able to find Charlie at the hospital to ensure he had a merry Christmas!

Charlie loves to play video games to pass his time while he is in the hospital, and since he's had plenty of time to practice, he's running out of worthy competition. Charlie also enjoys playing board games with his brother and sister. He is a fan of NASCAR drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and as a former resident of the great state of Texas, he is a Cowboys and Texans fan. He has also become a Green Bay fan thanks to his uncle's undying passion for the Packers. Charlie is interested in science, reading books and figuring out how things work.

Charlie's competitive streak and his passion to tackle any obstacle in front of him make him a natural fit with his Hero for the Cabin Fever Fighter Round, Andrew Yori - Rochester's very own American Ninja Warrior! Andrew is an inspiration to many around the world due to his ability to glean every ounce of his athletic gifts to achieve greatness and his drive to beat the odds. He is a driven, motivated athlete that has worked tirelessly in his journey to become the best in his sport. Charlie has displayed the same drive to defeat cancer and has become an inspiration to many others who are facing difficult circumstances. Charlie has become a Cancer Ninja Warrior, willing to sacrifice many things while keeping a positive attitude as he accomplishes his mission of beating this terrible disease.

Connor Johnson

At the age of 13, Connor Johnson was a typical Rochester teenage boy. He was attending John Adams Middle School and loved playing baseball and video games. He is a huge sports fan and especially enjoys watching hockey and football. Suddenly, things drastically changed. In the fall of 2015, Connor was having persistent headaches, double vision and was vomiting. A trip to his doctor did not reveal anything out of the ordinary. Since Connor's symptoms persisted, his parents, Kathy and Curt, took him to the eye doctor to see if his vision was the culprit. The ophthalmologist noticed that his optic nerve was severely swollen, and in response, made an appointment for Connor to have an MRI performed the following morning. The MRI revealed an egg-sized, malignant tumor in the back of his brain that was limiting necessary blood flow and increasing the pressure on his brain and spinal fluid. The tumor was diagnosed as Stage 4 Medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor pressing against his brain stem.

Connor was immediately admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) following his MRI. After two days of attentive monitoring, he was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor. On Thanksgiving Day, he had a second MRI to check if the tumor had spread to his spine. Thankfully, Connor's spine was tumor free. Finally, some good news! He was only allowed a bland hospital turkey lunch that Thanksgiving because he was scheduled for a big surgery the following day. The surgery to remove the brain tumor took 6 hours. The possible side-effects and outcomes of the surgery were terrifying, but Curt and Kathy knew their son was in good hands with the staff at the Mayo Clinic. Three days after brain surgery, Connor was able to return home. He needed to use a walker to help him get around. He also lost all expression and emotion for a short period of time, but Connor's friends and family were overjoyed to see him return to a "new normal" shortly thereafter.

During his recovery after his surgery, Connor was given a rigorous cancer treatment schedule including one year of chemotherapy and six weeks of proton beam radiation. Proton beam radiation is completed daily, Monday through Friday, during those 6 weeks. For each day of therapy, Connor needed to remain completely still, lying on a hard table for one to two hours, non-stop. The slightest wiggle of his toe could cause the staff the need to stop the procedure and reset the machine. The fact that an active teenage boy could accomplish this torturous task is a testament to Connor. Not once did he ever complain!

After 30 radiation treatments, Connor reached a major milestone; he was able to ceremoniously ring the bell which signified his completion of radiation therapy treatments. Regrettably, Connor's journey did not end there. He still needed to endure nine additional months of continued chemotherapy. Finally, on January 19th, 2017, Connor completed his last dose of chemotherapy. This was a major hurdle for Connor and it was an unbelievable relief to finish all of his treatments. After his first post-treatment MRI, on February 9th, 2017, Connor was given the long awaited news that he had no evidence of disease!

Connor is an amazingly strong and courageous kid with a caring heart. He never felt sorry for himself during the tumultuous journey he endured. He remained positive and continued to battle this unforgiving disease each and every day with his hard working attitude. Connor's dream career was to become a radiologist even before his battle with cancer, and this experience has solidified that career path for him. When asked, "Why do you want to become a doctor?" Connor will earnestly respond, "...because I want to help people." That response exemplifies Connor Johnson. No matter what he endures, he is always looking to help others during their difficult times. He has an amazing ability to make those around him feel at ease. We know that he will undoubtedly provide this feeling to his radiology patients when the time comes. One of his doctors was quoted as saying, "Connor has the courage of an adult, but the attitude of a child."

Connor's older brothers, Trevor, Grant & Garrett, their extended family, friends and community provided much needed support during his treatment. Connor and his family are amazed and eternally thankful at all the good that has come out of this tragic experience. The support that they have received from those who they've come in contact with throughout this journey has been remarkable. It has taught them to enjoy all parts of life and be thankful for each and every day.

As previously noted, Connor is a huge sports fan. He bleeds Purple due to his love for the Minnesota Vikings. Fittingly, Marcus Sherels, cornerback and All-Pro return specialist for the Minnesota Vikings will be Connor's Hero and partner during the 2017 Cabin Fever Fighter Round.

Hunter Gifford

Hunter Gifford is a happy, spunky seven-year-old who enjoys climbing trees while jamming to his favorite music. Fight Song isn't just a favorite song of Hunter''s a way of life. Born an entertainer, he brightens the days of his second grade class at Lincoln K-8 Choice Elementary School in Rochester. Hunter has two older brothers, Ian, who is 10 years old and Alec who is 9. They, too, know how to entertain. Ian loves performing magic tricks and is an avid reader while Alec enjoys singing and cheering on the Minnesota Twins. Hunters parents, Lisa and Steve, both work at Mayo Clinic, and more importantly, serve as an attentive audience to their children's endless display of talent.

On October 26th, 2016, Hunter was experiencing pain when he urinated. Initially, it was dismissed as a simple, treatable urinary tract infection, but the symptoms persisted. By that evening, Hunter was not being his normal, active, fun-loving self; Lisa knew there was something wrong. They went to the Emergency Room where tests revealed a bone mass pushing on his bladder. Upon further examination, the family was told that Hunter has Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone cancer. On November 1st, they learned that not only was the cancer in his hip bone, but it was an extremely aggressive metastatic cancer that had spread to his abdomen and lungs. This was unfathomable considering their sweet, charming little boy was climbing trees just days earlier.

One week after his diagnosis, Hunter began chemotherapy. He was scheduled to undergo 28 rounds of chemotherapy that, unfortunately, would make him bitterly nauseous. Hunter would become so nauseous that the chemo treatment schedule had to be postponed several times to allow for him to recover enough to continue. Despite its debilitating effects, after about one month into Hunter's courageous fight, the chemotherapy seemed to be working! The results of his tests at that time showed a significantly smaller tumor in his left hip. In addition to his chemotherapy, Hunter started the first of 31 proton beam radiation sessions on February 13th, 2017. When Hunter's chemotherapy and the proton beam sessions are completed, he will undergo radiation treatments on his lungs. Hunter still has a very long road ahead of him in his cancer treatment. We know this strong little man will emerge victorious. We know and believe this because he is "Hunter Strong," and we are all behind him throughout this journey!

Thankfully, battling cancer does not stop Hunter from enjoying his life and his family. He enjoys playing on his iPad, making forts, swimming, and following his big brothers' examples. Another passion for Hunter, not unlike most other seven-year-olds: LEGOs! Hunter likes to disassemble things and build them back again. No matter how taxing chemotherapy is on him, he always has time for LEGOs. It's not unusual for him to have a LEGO bucket on one side and an emesis basin (AKA: barf bucket) on his other. Hunter is also quite the jokester. His parents, teachers and care team at the hospital are subject to his clever practical jokes! Hunter's favorite animals are monkeys, which is very fitting due to his own affinity for climbing trees. If you would ask Hunter what he plans to do when he grows up, he would tell you that he would like to be an Arborist and plant a forest of trees. No one would be allowed to cut them down because he wants to help the environment. It is this tremendous spirit that helps carry Hunter throughout his courageous battle.

The Gifford family has endured far more hardships than most of us could ever imagine. Three years prior to Hunter's diagnosis, Steve's mother lost her battle with cancer. Lisa is challenged every day due to her battle with Lupus, and Alec has autism, as well as cerebral palsy. Despite all of these tragic hardships, their positive attitudes, warm smiles, strong faith in God and the loving bond that the Gifford family shares exemplify their amazing spirit and their relentless belief in a better tomorrow. Family, friends, co-workers, the Lincoln School community, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church community and the staff at the Mayo Clinic have all been an amazing source of support to the Gifford family. The prayers, meals, cards, letters and love that has been given to them, has made an immeasurably positive and important impact on this challenging time that the Gifford's have had to endure.

Hunter holds a number of these people in high regard. He identified several people that he views as heroes in his life including his care team at Mayo Clinic, police officers, teachers and staff from his school. With so many positive influences in his life, one Hero stands above all others and holds a special place in his heart: Mr. (Will) Ruffin, a teacher at Hunter's school. We are honored to have Mr. Ruffin team with Hunter during the 2017 Cabin Fever Fighter Round.

Jack Cassidy

"I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles..." as quoted by Christopher Reeve; a fitting way to introduce Jack Cassidy. Jack was your typical busy, energetic 2 year-old boy who enjoyed learning new things each and every day. But in December 2015, Jack would transform into Super Jack, a name given in honor of his favorite superhero, Superman. It was at this time that Super Jack would need to, as Christopher Reeve said, "...find strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles..." This is Jack's story:

One week before Thanksgiving in November, 2015, Jack was at daycare when he accidentally fell into a toy box. Even though Jack had incurred many similar tumbles in the past, this fall would turn out to be a blessing-in-disguise for the Cassidy family. The left side of Jack's jaw took the brunt of the impact. But, like most 2 year olds, it barely fazed him. Moments later, Jack was back to playing, as if nothing had happened. The following day, Jack's face was noticeably swollen and very tender along the jawline. Jack's mother, Amanda, promptly scheduled a visit to their family physician. After discussion with the care team, they were told to wait and see if the swelling and soreness would improve on its own the following week. That week passed with no improvement. Jack was then seen by a maxillofacial specialist. The doctor simply ran his hand along the jawbone and gave Jack a diagnosis of a broken jaw. Rest and ibuprofen was his treatment plan.

A few days later, in early December of 2015, Jack's sister fell down and accidently bumped him on the jaw while the two were playing. Unsurprisingly, Jack belted out in agony. He remained in horrible pain, shed constant tears and was obviously not acting like himself. Amanda called their doctor seeking a prescription for stronger pain medications. Instead, she was instructed to take him to the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic. A CT scan was performed which showed that Jack's jaw was not broken, but instead, revealed a mass in and on the jawbone along the left side of Jack's face. Jack's father, Neil, recalls the moment Jack's emergency doctor came in the room with two other gentlemen in suits. His heart sank as he realized that life as they knew it was about to change.

Jack was admitted to the hospital that night and was scheduled for a biopsy the following day. They learned it was a tumor, and four days later, they were informed that it was cancer. It was diagnosed as a very rare form of cancer called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH). Jack's form of LCH was described as being unifocal. Although unifocal LCH has a good prognosis, a rigorous treatment plan was developed. Jack would need to undergo a year of chemotherapy and prednisone cycles. Because of the rarity of this disease, the cancer's proximity to his brain, along with the high risk of reoccurrence because of Jack's age, an aggressive approach was needed with the possibility of changes expected. Jack would need to adapt to his new way of life quickly. He would need to be strong in order to persevere and endure in spite of these impending overwhelming obstacles that lay ahead. Jack Cassidy would need to transform into Super Jack.

The next step for Super Jack was to have a port placed in his chest, which he playfully referred to as "His Button." With this, he began his chemotherapy treatment, which Super Jack lightheartedly described as "His Button getting a big drink." After six weeks of chemotherapy and prednisone treatments, tests revealed that the soft tissue on top of the bone had decreased, but sadly the tumor had grown inside the bone. Therefore, Super Jack had to undergo a treatment where a needle was directly placed into the jawbone in order to administer steroids to the cancerous area.

Following six additional weeks of chemotherapy, the Cassidy's were blessed to hear that Super Jack's cancer status was "near-to-complete resolution!" However, the worry and painstaking treatments were not over. Super Jack would need to endure nine more grueling months of chemotherapy, prednisone, body scans, x-rays and trips to the Emergency Department to treat neutrophenic fevers. Thankfully, in December of 2016, Super Jack completed his chemotherapy treatments and His Button was removed. The family was given the long anticipated news that the cancer cells were gone! Three year-old Super Jack had done it! He had persevered and endured!

This wonderful news also brought about a much more lighthearted milestone. Neil stopped shaving his facial hair when Jack was diagnosed with cancer and vowed not to shave until Jack was done with his treatment as a symbolic gesture. After just over one year of not shaving, the loss of his beard announced to those that know the Cassidy family that Super Jack had courageously battled and defeated cancer! Although the family is grateful to be at this stage, Super Jack's journey is not entirely over. He will continue to receive testing every 3 months for the next year, twice the following year, and one per year, thereafter, for the rest of his life.

For the past 15 months, the Cassidy family has learned to adapt to a "new normal" way of life. Neil, head coach of the St. Mary's University Women's Soccer Team, and Amanda, teacher at Bamber Valley Elementary School in Rochester, were amazed at how their family and friends would rally to support them through this emotional time in their lives. Addison, Jack's 10 year-old sister who is a 4th grader and also a very talented soccer player, would play the role of cheerleader and would rally the family during the toughest of times. They learned that Jack's other sister, 6 year-old Molly, who is a kind-hearted Kindergartner, as well as Jack's best friend, was thankfully too young to understand the magnitude of the situation. This innocence proved to be one of the biggest blessings in the Cassidy's journey, as it showed the importance of living in the moment. It reminded them to cherish every day, even if it will never be the same as it was before Thanksgiving of 2015. This new life may be a little scarier, but it is a little sweeter, too. Most importantly, Neil and Amanda learned their son is Fighter. Even after his transformation to Super Jack, he's the same little boy who dances to Bruno Mars and would eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and chocolate ice cream for every meal. His favorite movie is Monsters, Inc. which just recently was removed from their On-Demand library. Upon learning of this dilemma, as you can imagine, Super Jack's passion for the movie showed! Jack also enjoys playing with race cars, playing basketball and fixing most things around the house, except for light sockets, right Jack?!?! As we know, Jack also loves Superman. It makes perfect sense that Super Jack should team with Superman, the superhero whom Christopher Reeve is most famously recognized for. Superman is here to support Jack today during the Cabin Fever Fighter Round as Jack's Hero. Superman is known to most of the world as Clark Kent, but to his Cabin Fever family, he's known as Nick Floberg.

In a quote, Superman once said, "You're much stronger than you think you are... TRUST ME." Super Jack Cassidy has proven this to be true!

The Supporting Cast

We are so pleased to have the following individuals team up with these kids in our fighter round.

KTTC's Jess Abrahamson and Tom Overlie will be our MC's for the Fighter Round! Thank you Jess and Tom!!

And THANK YOU to all the supporters of the Fighter Round. Because of you, this will be a special moment for each of our strong, courageous Honorary Tournament Captains!

Please join us in celebrating these fighters' journeys by cheering them on during their game at approximately 3 PM.

Honor Wall

Please join us in honoring all our friends and loved ones are currently fighting or have previously fought cancer. We will have a large board at the event for you to post photos and names of those you wish to honor. We encourage your participation.