April 5, 2010
By Joanne C. Gerstner
On April 10, former Michigan star kicker Phil Brabbs (2001-02) hopes to take a big step in saving his life.
On the same day, members of the Wolverine football and women's swimming and diving programs hope to take many steps to help Brabbs and others fighting cancer.
Brabbs, a 29-year-old married father of two with a baby girl due in three weeks, is fighting multiple myeloma, a deadly cancer that affects bone marrow. He is preparing for two stem cell transplants, the first coming on April 10, to reboot his body's defenses and push the cancer into remission. Brabbs' intense battle, and the many other personal stories of lives touched by cancer, has inspired the teams to participate in the American Cancer Society's "Relay For Life" at Palmer Field in Ann Arbor. He sees the coincidental April 10 intersection of his procedure and the Relay as a strong omen.
"You can't ask for better things to happen on one day, can you?" Brabbs said. "I am just really moved and proud of all the swimmers, divers and members of the football family for thinking of me and taking action like this for others. What they're doing is going to save a life, many lives. Every dollar they raise hopefully goes to a researcher, who will do the research for treatment to get to the doctors.
"I'm right now at the end of that chain, working with the doctors to get the right treatments to deal with this multiple myeloma. So the walk matters. What they're doing matters. April 10, we are all fighting cancer: me in the hospital, them by walking."
The football and swim teams will walk for 24 hours straight, with at least one representative walking at all times. They are raising money for the American Cancer Society through donations and auctions. The teams will camp out by the track, lending a fun atmosphere to the fundraiser. It's the first time either team has participated in the Relay, and both are finding strong positive reactions to their efforts.
The swim team has made significant progress toward exceeding their fundraising goal of $1,000, something that pleases Relay captain and senior swimmer Keenan Koss. She hopes people will visit the swim and dive team's Relay page for online donations.
"My grandma is a breast cancer survivor, and I think of what she went through and I really want to do something to help stop cancer," Koss said. "A lot of people on our team don't even realize that Caitlin (Dauw) is a survivor too. We know people who have all been touched by cancer, so it shows how serious this really is.
"I thought it would be a great way for us to be involved in the community, make a difference with others, and you know we're going to have fun too. We're all looking forward to this a lot."
Dauw, a sophomore swimmer who recently had two top-10 finishes at the Big Ten Conference Championships, survived childhood leukemia. She barely remembers receiving chemotherapy for two-and-a-half years, starting at age four, only recalling getting stuffed animals and toys for her good cooperation. She feels very passionate about the Relay, as her story of survival is living proof that even the scariest of cancers can be beaten.
"I know it's because of all the research that's been done that the survival rate for leukemia has drastically improved," Dauw said. "The money coming in for research has changed everything. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to do this. Some people know I had leukemia, it's not like I've announced it or anything. But it's not a hidden thing either; people have heard me talk about it.
"I wanted to be able to do something to help others who are fighting cancer, like Brabby. We're not doing anything halfway; we're giving this our all."
The fun side of the swimmer and divers will be on display, as they're planning on decorating their camp area with old goggles, and other pool paraphernalia.
The Football Family Relay For Life web page details Brabbs' fight against cancer. They have set a very ambitious goal, hoping to raise $35,000. Senior receiver Nick Koenigsknecht, the football team's Relay captain, has gotten to know Brabbs well and wanted to do something significant in his honor.
"I think all of us have been really, really impacted by Phil and the way he is fighting his cancer, we are all rooting for him and wanted to do something constructive to fight the cancer for him," Koenigsknecht. "I can't think of a better way than to do the Relay. I really hope this can become a tradition for the football family, allowing us to do something about cancer in the community."
The football family has launched an eBay auction with items such as coffee with former coach Lloyd Carr, field passes for the April 17 spring game, Michigan football gear, Jamie Morris-autographed photos, and other items to help reach their goal.
The Wolverines have practice on April 10, with Coach Rich Rodriguez and the players heading over to the Relay afterwards. Koenigsknecht and the other graduating seniors are done practicing and will handle the walking duties until their teammates arrive.
Brabbs is impressed with how the swimming and diving and football teams have embraced him.
"I know there is a lot of positive energy and prayers heading my way, I can feel it," Brabbs said. "You need every bit of it, and to know that so many members of the Michigan family are looking out for me and doing something to fight cancer, all I can say is thanks.
"I see my fight as being parallel to Michigan football: we've had a rough last two years, suffering some tough losses. But things are turning around, there is hope, we're going to come back in the fall, stronger and better than ever. How's that for a good ending?"
The University of Michigan ranks seventh nationally among universities participating in Relay For Life with over $77,000 raised for the 2010 event. Please help join the fight and support the American Cancer Society and Michigan football and women's swimming and diving!
You can follow Phil's progress at mmfordummies.blogspot.com. Despite preparing for the stem cell transplant, and expecting their third child the end of this month, Phil and his wife, Cassie, update the page religiously and have an incredible story to share.