Vail Valley middle school football team kicks cancer for two of its families
Teams, school gives a boot for cancer battles of two families
EDWARDS — You kick something when cancer calls on your family.
Cancer skulked into the lives of two St. Clare of Assisi families: 5-year old Noah Mills is battling cancer in both kidneys, while Connie Dunn, a mother and Vail Christian Academy teacher, is fighting breast cancer.
St. Clare is rallying, as families do. The football team declared Thursday’s game against Summit Middle School as its Kickin’ Cancer game, raising money for the Mills family.
It was a big win at so many levels.
Thomas Dekanich ran back the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. During a halftime exhibition, Elias Pena kicked three field goals, each worth hundreds of dollars pledged to the cause.
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St. Clare won 32-0, which is good. Everyone was in it together, which is better, said fourth-year coach Angelo Vasquez.
“We always try to do something for our October games (cancer awareness month), but this month we wanted to make it special, especially since we have families involved,” Vasquez said.
Carson Dunn, Connie’s son, has been with Vasquez for three years. Vasquez and Connie have been friends for years.
St. Clare’s is a K-8 school in Edwards, and its football team — the Mustangs — draws players from three other schools that don’t have football.
The Kickin’ Cancer game was the idea of Vasquez. The team jumped on board immediately. Students made posters supporting Noah and Dunn. St. Clare parents fired up the grill and handled the concessions (try the elk chili. It’s amazing).
The work was easy because it was a labor of love, Vasquez said.
“We try to teach the kids that it’s more than just football, more than wins and losses,” Vasquez said.
It’s a family fight
The Dunn family has been in their battle for better than a year.
The Mills family recalls the night seven weeks ago when Noah was in obvious pain. No one could figure out why.
“No one saw it coming,” said Ella Mills, Noah’s older sister, a Battle Mountain High School junior and a national qualifier in speech and debate.
They saw Noah suffering, though. His pain made them think it might be something abdominal, maybe a severe stomachache, maybe appendicitis.
They made a midnight run to a local emergency room where x-rays showed tumors on both of Noah’s kidneys. The local doctors told the Mills to drive him to Denver’s Children’s Hospital.
“They told us to leave immediately,” Shannon Mills, Noah’s mom said.
The Mills say they’re lucky. Through America’s Rocky Mountain corridor between Canada and Mexico, only Denver’s Children’s Hospital handles Wilms tumors, which is what Noah has.
It was 2 a.m. when they broke for Denver that night, just over two hours away — close for most things, a lifetime when you’re rushing your son down the mountain.
Patients like Noah are classified as an advanced case. Treatment began immediately. Through it all Noah carried on like normal 5-year old, except he was losing his hair from the chemotherapy, Shannon said.
“He was going full guns. You wouldn’t know he had cancer,” Shannon said.
Surgeons removed the tumors and tissue around them, about a kidney and a half when they were through. Chemotherapy lasted six weeks.
Goal line is getting closer
The goal line seemed a long way away seven weeks ago during a flying run to Denver in the middle of the night — kidney cancer, chemotherapy, surgery, more treatments to come, an insane number of car trips to the Front Range. Traffic was an adventure, especially with a child sickened by chemotherapy stuck in the car with them.
Noah came home earlier this week, a little beat up from it all but in better spirits and finding his smile, Shannon said, herself smiling into the brilliant Colorado sky during Thursday’s game.
Their goal line is closer.
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