Cancer diagnosis inspires firefighters to plan fundraiser
Brendon Kasselman was training to take part in a local boxing tournament two months ago, when he learned he was facing an entirely different fight — one for his life.
Kasselman Benefit Event
A silent auction, poker tournament and raffle for a .22 rifle beginning at 11 a.m. Jan. 22 at Twisters, 13100 Kansas Ave. The silent auctions will include two custom fire helmets, gift certificates and a custom firefighter t-shirt quilt. Registration for the poker tournament will start at 11 a.m. Jan. 22, and the tournament itself will start at 1 p.m. The raffle drawing will take place about 4:30 p.m.
At just 30 years old, Kasselman was diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma, a skin cancer he had removed five years ago but which since had spread to his internal organs. As a volunteer firefighter for the Bonner Springs Fire Department, Kasselman won’t be facing this fight alone: his “brother” firefighters have rallied to support him and also have organized an event this weekend to raise funds to aide in his treatments.
“It’s awesome that these guys are willing to do something, and I can’t thank them enough,” Kasselman said. “It’s nice to know that people care.”
Capt. Brandon Reynolds, Travis Hubbel and Patrick Moore said they thought it was important to help Kasselman.
“The fire service is kind of like a brotherhood — everybody has your back and kind of takes care of one another,” said Reynolds, who added that Kasselman is showing how he earned the nickname “Tank” as he takes on the disease. If anyone can beat a stage 4 diagnosis, Reynolds said, it’s Kasselman. “We hope that with his mentality, yeah, he’s a tough guy, he doesn’t give up.”
“We know he’s not going to stop trying to get through it,” Hubbel added. “If he hits a bump in the road, he’s not just going to quit.”
Kasselman first started having minor back pain in mid-November, but he credited it to his training for the “Guns & Hoses” charity boxing tournament — nothing his chiropractor couldn’t fix.
On Nov. 22, after fighting a fire with the department, the pain stepped up to a whole other level, forcing him to go to the doctor.
“I hurt so fricking bad that night, and I don’t usually go to the doctor,” he said. “… It turned my world upside down in two weeks.”
A CT scan revealed that melanoma, an area of skin cancer Kasselman had removed from his back in 2007, had become metastatic, spreading down his spine to create tumors on his vertebrae, as well as in his armpit, spleen and liver.
“They thought they got it all when they (removed) it before,” he said. “They said this is something I’ll have to keep getting checked for the rest of my life, because it will do it again.”
Once melanoma has spread to other parts of the body beyond the skin, it is difficult to treat, and survival rates for metastatic melanoma are low, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.
So far, Kasselman has undergone radiation treatment, and he also has had to go to the hospital twice with severe back pain. He is now taking a medication that seems to be shrinking at least one of the tumors, but he said doctors are still determining the best course of action for his treatment depending on his reaction to medications.
“I’m at the doctor every week and they’re checking on it and watching it to see what it’s doing,” he said. “So I don’t know if it’s going to take long — it will be a while before we know. It seems like they’ve listed off 20 different treatments they could have done.”
The pain has kept Kasselman from firefighting and his work at the Bonner Springs Family YMCA, though he hopes to get back to work soon. He fortunately has insurance, and though he hasn’t started to get bills for his treatments, he said it has been a strain to cover even his co-pays for the high-cost medicines and CT scans.
It wasn’t long before Kasselman felt the outpouring of support from his fellow firefighters. Hubbel and Reynolds stepped forward to first organize t-shirts bearing Kasselman’s nickname and a purple ribbon in early December. Moore then joined in to help organize a poker tournament, silent auction and raffle, which will take place Sunday, Jan. 22, at Twisters.
Hubbel and Reynolds said they have received a lot of support from area fire departments — almost every fire department in Leavenworth, Johnson and Wyandotte counties contributed department t-shirts for a custom fire department quilt to be auctioned off and plans to have a representative at Sunday’s event.
“It’s kind of one of those deals that you take care of, even if it’s not one of your own, from your department,” Hubbel said.
But they hope the greater community of Bonner Springs takes note, as well, for the benefit of the hometown boy, a Bonner Springs High School graduate and son of the former football coach.
“Through our contacts, through people in the fire service, we’ve put it out; it’s easier for us to get a hold of those people,” Reynolds said. “… His family is so well-known in the community, we were hoping that it would spread more, but it’s hard to get it out there.”
Though Kasselman faces the fight of his life, he thinks his outlook is much better thanks in part to his firefighter family.
“I feel like it’s just another thing in life to beat. It’s another challenge that I’ll end up doing with all my friends and these guys will all help me through it,” he said. “Everybody’s always telling me to keep my head up. Some times I don’t like to do things the easy way, anyway.”