The Swanton Bulldogs may have trounced the Evergreen Vikings in their varsity showdown last Friday, but it was Chase Miller who scored big at the game.
A coin war erupted in the stands for nine-year-old Chase, a Park Elementary School student who is about to undergo his fifth and final round of chemotherapy for lymphatic cancer. The only casualties in the battle were the pockets of generous donors from both school districts, who filled buckets with change to help pay Chase’s mounting medical expenses.
The football fundraiser included a bake sale hosted by the teams’ cheerleaders, the distribution of wristbands, and the sale of T-shirts proclaiming “#Chase Strong” and “No One Fights Alone.” It was a show of community support for Chase, who was unexpectedly sidelined with the cancer two weeks after his June birthday.
The event was coordinated by Jennifer Coopshaw, a family friend whose son Tyler plays varsity football for Evergreen High School. A final donation total wasn’t available.
“We were expecting it to be a coin war, but I also saw tens and twenties in the buckets. People were so generous,” said his mother, Heather Courtney. “It was overwhelming, seeing all the support.”
She took Chase to his pediatrician following his birthday with a suspected case of tonsillitis. Strangely, it seemed to affect only the left tonsil.
That’s when a tumor was discovered growing shockingly fast on that side. An ear, throat, and nose specialist performed the tonsillectomy, and a biopsy revealed Burkipt lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer.
“We were shocked, devastated, and pretty, scared, but we caught it real early,” said Courtney, a McClure, Ohio, resident who teaches kindergarten at Crestwood Elementary School in Swanton.
Chase began chemotherapy treatments in July at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. He initially underwent five-day sessions, then switched to sessions every three weeks. Consequently, he lost his hair, suffers from mouths sores that make eating and drinking difficult, and has dropped to 80 pounds.
His father, Randy Miller, a Wauseon resident and Evergreen High School alumnus, said the news of Chase’s illness left him numb. “You always hear about people having cancer, but you don’t realize how horrible a disease it is until it happens to you,” he said.
But Miller said Chase’s positive attitude throughout his ordeal has been uplifting.
“The most common thing anybody says to us, ‘We don’t know how you deal with this.’ To be honest, Chase makes it easier,” he said. “Through it all, he doesn’t complain about anything. He’s a lot stronger than me and Heather. He makes it easy to get by.”
Courtney said even though his cancer has delayed his new school year, Chase has proven to be positive and tough.
“He kind of goes with the flow. And we have so much support from the school and friends and family,” she said.
She’s not sure how much of the situation Chase’s older brother Keegan, who is autistic, understands. But the illness has impacted his younger brother, Cale.
“His world has turned upside down. We only explain as much as we have to. We don’t want to scare him,” Courtney said.
Health insurance has assisted with Chase’s medical bills, “but when it’s all said and done I don’t know how much it’s going to be,” she said.
Initially, his parents’ friends and fellow enthusiasts of Oakshade Raceway near Wauseon contributed several hundred dollars towards Chase’s medical bills. More money was raised at a Sept. 10-12 benefit held at Eldora Speedway in New Weston, Ohio. And Chase benefited from a St. Baldrick’s Foundation event Sept. 21 at Terry Henricks Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership in Archbold, where local law enforcement officers had their heads shaved to raise funds.
No more benefits for Chase are planned, but his parents are open to ideas.
Courtney praises “an incredible group of doctors” at the children’s hospital. And the hope is that her son’s positron emission tomography (PET) imaging scan following his last chemotherapy session will offer good news.
Miller said Chase’s prognosis is good, and that’s what he’s concentrating on. “I don’t even think about the money until we’ve got this done,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.