Party scores with youngsters battling cancer

Hope Corwin (middle), Kansas City, Mo., is surrounded by members of the Sporting Kansas City soccer team during the 2011 Cattle Baron’s Ball Children’s Party at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park. The event Tuesday gave youths battling cancer a chance to take part in a soccer clinic and tour the stadium. Pictured from left are Graham Zusi, midfielder; Chance Myers, defender; Teal Bunbury, striker; and Luke Sassano, midfielder. Enlarge photo

August 11, 2011

Despite meeting five Sporting Kansas City soccer players Tuesday, 10-year-old Wilson Bledsoe, Tonganoxie, says he’s only “a little bit” considering a future career as a professional soccer player.

For now, playing soccer —which he has been doing for the past four years with the Edwardsville Parks and Recreation Department — is more just for fun, he says.

His mother, Clara Sybrant, however, has bigger dreams for her son.

“Hopefully in the future, Wilson will be playing up there on the (LIVESTRONG Sporting Park) stadium. I’d like to see him play out there, actually maybe even be on Sporting KC and actually see him play an actual game,” Sybrant said with a laugh.

Seeing Wilson as a featured team member of Sporting KC might have been somewhat inspired by the 2011 Cattle Baron’s Ball Children’s Party that Sybrant attended with her son, a cancer survivor, Tuesday at LIVESTRONG.

The second annual party, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, KCP&L and Sporting KC, was given to area children who have battled or still are battling cancer and their siblings. Last year’s party took place at Kaleidoscope in Crown Center, said Kendra Garwood, the program’s chair.

The party is “just as a way to say we’re thinking of you, we want to give you a chance to get out and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours,” she said. “So just kind of like a thank you party to kids for all they’ve gone through.”

The 35 youths who attended the party were first greeted by Ronald McDonald and then given a few minutes to enjoy refreshments. Then the party got under way, with the youths divided into two groups. One group took part in a soccer clinic on the LIVESTRONG field conducted by students from Notre Dame de Sion Catholic School in Kansas City, Mo. The other group toured the stadium, including the Sporting KC lockerroom, training room and the various suites and VIP rooms.

Then the groups switched.

Toward the end of the party, five members of the Sporting KC team, Luke Sassano, Chance Myers, Teal Bunbury, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, showed up to play with the youths on the soccer field and sign cards, T-shirts and Sporting KC bobble heads.

Of meeting the players Wilson said, “That was cool.”

At the end of this year, Wilson will celebrate his 10th anniversary of being cancer-free — he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, which was presented as a tumor in the adrenal gland of his right kidney, when he was only 8 months old.

A week after the diagnosis, Wilson had his kidney removed. He then underwent four months of chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in December of that year. He has had annual checkups every year since then, with no indication the cancer has returned.

Sybrant said she and Wilson have Wilson’s grandmother, Sandy, to thank for his life. Sybrant said Wilson’s symptoms were originally misdiagnosed as constipation and a hernia. But Sandy wasn’t convinced and so demanded a second opinion, after which the cancer was found.

Sybrant said she thought of her mother, who died of stage four lung cancer in 2008, all the time, but especially at Wilson’s cancer-free anniversary.

“I’m just very thankful for … that he’s here with me, very thankful for my mom because if it wasn’t for her … I can’t say what if or what would have happened. I know his story would have been different because I’ve just now started learning how serious his type of cancer is,” she said.

Tuesday’s party brought memories of Wilson’s grandmother to his mind, as well. The two were close, Sybrant says, and it’s clear Wilson still misses her terribly.

“It’s just so sad,” Wilson said simply of his grandmother.

The day wasn’t about being sad, though. Wilson said, being as advanced a soccer player as he is, he didn’t really learn too much at the clinic. His favorite part of the day, however, was being out on the field.

“Well, I liked the soccer field and how big it is,” he said, noting Tuesday was his first trip to the stadium.

But Wilson and the other youths at the party will get a chance to see LIVESTRONG again. Each of them were given goodie bags that included tickets to a Sporting KC game, as well as passes to the Kansas City Zoo and Powell Gardens.

Asked what she hoped the youths would come away with from the party, Garwood said she hoped something fun and positive to remember as they continue to deal with the not-so-fun or positive aspects of cancer.

“Just the memories that they’re going to have and, hopefully friendships,” Garwood said. “Hopefully (they met and formed connections with) … other kids going through similar situations.”

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