Story, Patient

Kai’s Journey: From the Gridiron to Overcoming Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

August 25, 2023

After Kai experienced what was thought to be a sinus infection and some mild abdominal discomfort, further testing revealed he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

For Kai, joining his high school football team was a dream eight years in the making. The promise of this new adventure, however, was soon overshadowed by a mysterious health issue that began just weeks into his football season. What initially seemed like a routine sinus infection and mild abdominal discomfort quickly escalated.

Kai standing outside of hospital

A startling diagnosis

Kai and his father, Greg, decided to seek medical advice at a nearby primary care clinic in Colorado Springs, expecting nothing more than a prescription for antibiotics. At first, doctors suspected appendicitis, but a series of diagnostic tests, including a CT scan and an MRI, unveiled something far more serious: Kai had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a formidable cancer of the lymphatic system. The tumor on his left kidney was as large as a peach. In an instant, Kai’s life took a sharp turn, and he immediately began treatment at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

As a military family, Kai’s parents approached their son’s cancer as a battle to be won. “We knew what the enemy was, and Children’s Colorado had a plan to attack and destroy it,” said Greg.

Fighting back with courage

Kai completed four rounds of chemotherapy, each spanning 21 days, at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs. The treatments shrunk Kai’s massive tumor by an astonishing 84%. An additional 14 days of radiation therapy were employed to eradicate the remaining traces of the tumor.

“One of the hardest parts was losing my hair,” Kai recalls, “but my whole family was there when I got my head shaved – and a lot of them shaved their heads, too, so I wouldn’t feel alone.”

Despite enduring lengthy chemotherapy sessions, Kai demonstrated unparalleled determination. He not only attended every single football practice and game during the fall season but also wore his jersey proudly from the sidelines, never letting cancer sideline his spirit.

“I felt like I was still a part of the team, and my teammates were by my side the whole time I was going through treatment,” said Kai.

Kai holding a football

Ringing the Warrior Bell

Kai’s triumphant moment arrived when he celebrated the conclusion of his cancer treatment with a bell-ringing ceremony. His family, friends, and teammates gathered at his football team’s year-end banquet to share his joy.

Today, Kai’s love for football remains, but he’s decided to join his dad in building a dynamic broadcasting team for his high school’s football team and supporting his former teammates from behind the camera. His health remains excellent and he’s working toward a status of “cured” which will happen five years from the end of his treatment.

Kai has a newfound passion for giving back to Children’s Colorado, eager to help other children navigate the challenging path he has traversed. His message to those facing similar battles is one of hope and resilience: “I would tell other kids going through treatment that it will be OK. Just put a smile on your face and you can get through it.”