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What Sports Mean to Kids- The Brendan Tori Story

Brendan Tori

Throughout the United States, children are energetically bouncing around football fields chasing, hitting, juking, and soaking in a little instruction from their coaches. They love the sport and see their potential for greatness as limitless. Even if it’s not in football, they know that they can be the next great soccer player or astronaut, or whatever their minds can conceive. What if that joy and sense of possibility was stripped from your child in an instance, leaving instead a long and disheartening journey of pain and uncertainty? This is what happens to the millions of kids diagnosed with childhood cancer each year, one of which was Brendan Tori, son of Sports Facilities Companies’ Payroll and Benefits Administrator Trista Tori.

At 13, Brendan was a rising eighth grader who loved football and was starting to show potential. “Brendan was super-fast at that age and loved sports,” said Trista. Brendan had previously played running back position on his middle school team and was getting ready for the upcoming season. This was until a sports physical changed his life. Trista took her four boys for sports physicals at the start of each school year. This year appeared to be the same as many before that. All boys were cleared to play but a day later Brendan complained of swelling in his right leg. Concerned, his parents took him to urgent care for an examination. After an x-ray, an MRI, and bloodwork, it was determined that he needed to go to a larger medical facility for more extensive testing. With hearts in their throats, the Toris took young Brendan to St. Joseph’s Hospital and prepared for the worst. Unfortunately, their fears were realized when he was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer with only 200 cases nationally. In that moment, football had been snatched from him and the fight for his life began. Thankfully, the grit and determination that he’d developed playing the game was still present.

“Brendan is one of my toughest kids,” said Trista. “I think he only cried once during the entire process.” Shortly after the diagnosis, Brendan began chemotherapy treatment in order to shrink the tumor that had grown to the size of a soccer ball. When he initially complained about his leg, the tumor had burst, and the fluid caused his leg to swell. Along with weeks of energy-robbing chemotherapy, Brendan was a part of a clinical trial for an experimental drug. Both the chemotherapy and the clinical trial were effective in shrinking the tumor and towards the end of the year, surgery was done to remove it. After 11 grueling months of chemotherapy, clinical trials, surgery, and recovery, Brendan’s cancer was gone.

Unfortunately, the physical effects of the chemotherapy treatment can last much longer. Research has shown that childhood cancer patients have a shorter lifespan despite recovering from the disease.  Other physical effects include a heightened risk of heart disease, reduced memory and attention, and poor hand/eye coordination. Advocates have called for a less-damaging alternative to chemotherapy to be given to treat children with cancer. 

While this was a dark time for the Tori family. There were moments of light and inspiration as well. Through the Make a Wish Foundation, Brendan was able to attend Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, MN. While the game was a tremendously hard-fought battle, ultimately won by the Philadelphia Eagles, the connections and memories made will never wither. Along with receiving tons of cool items such as signed helmets from Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matt Stafford and New York Giants’ wide receiver Golden Tate (the Toris are from Detroit), he got to play catch with former receiver Charcandrick West and hang out with fellow cancer survivor Eric Berry. Berry is an All-Pro defensive back who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. After going through chemotherapy, Berry returned to football where he was named to the Pro Bowl and honored with the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

While the later conversation was inspiring, these days, Brendan’s sports exploits have been on the recreational level. He plays flag football and basketball with friends and has recently graduated from Palm Harbor High School. However, the Toris are thankful for Brendan’s ability to play sports at all and achieve in any arena. Despite how scary and difficult the time was, Brendan survived it and has been cancer-free for over four years. It’s a true testament to the lessons that sports nurtures within us, including the perseverance to overcome the most difficult of obstacles.

Childhood Cancer Facts:

  • In 2018, an estimated 15,590 children were diagnosed with cancer in the United States.
  • Childhood cancer survivors are twice as likely to suffer chronic health conditions
  • Childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease of children under the age of 19 in the U.S.
  • Less than 4% of the federal budget for cancer research is dedicated to childhood cancer.

Childhood Cancer Facts gathered from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. They used a variety sources including the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health.

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