Vs. Cancer Becomes Personal for College Lacrosse Coach

Blog |

Thank you to Albion College Lacrosse head coach Jake DeCola for sharing his experience with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Vs. Cancer program, and how our mission became personal when one of his players was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In 2016, Albion College sophomore and lacrosse player Drew Harm was taken to the hospital after being hit in the back of his neck during a game. A CT scan unexpectedly revealed a mass on Drew’s brain, and he was diagnosed with a diffuse astrocytoma brain tumor.

Drew didn’t initially need surgery, and doctors would monitor the tumor while Drew continued “life as usual,” attending classes and playing lacrosse. Even from the bench, Drew’s energy, enthusiasm and support of his teammates were invaluable as he worked hard to become part of the starting team.

The next season In 2017, Drew got his chance on the field and his game took off. He scored 40 goals and tied for fifth-most goals in a season at Albion. We were undefeated in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference for the third-straight season, with Drew being an unstoppable part of our offense and integral to our back-to-back championships.

Though many people may not have known it, Drew was simultaneously still battling a brain tumor.
In December 2017, routine scans showed that the tumor had grown and now required surgery at the University of Michigan. When I went to see Drew after surgery, he was like a different kid. He couldn’t lift his left arm, a valuable asset to his lacrosse game. It was frightening and hard to see him discouraged.

But nothing could keep Drew down for long. He took time off from school to work on his recovery and returned to our team in 2018. Some days he was brilliant, while other days he was frustrated – but he remained focused on doing all he could to make everyone and everything around him better.

Our team and school already had a strong relationship with Vs. Cancer, with Albion’s athletes, professors, and students fundraising and shaving their heads over the years. Once Drew was diagnosed, we were excited to partner with Vs. Cancer again and show support for one of our own. We chose to help fund child life programs at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at University of Michigan, where Drew had been treated, with our fundraising efforts. The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams combined efforts to raise more than $4,000, and they visited the hospital to meet and give gifts to the children they were helping.

This March, we found out Drew’s tumor had returned. I couldn’t believe it. Why do these things happen to wonderful kids like Drew? Hadn’t he been through enough already at such a young age? He had surgery again at the close of the season, as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

I’m so impressed and inspired by Drew and how he continues to overcome every obstacle. In lacrosse, he battled for two years to get off the bench and onto the playing field – and once he did, he was an invaluable team member. He’s awesome, and I know he’ll continue with that same level of grit in all he does.

Because of Drew, I’m a better person and our team is better. We’re more united than ever because our guys are focused on others and making an impact. We tell Drew’s story as much as possible so that other teams can get involved. Having such a personal connection to Vs. Cancer’s mission, I’m even more confident that our efforts are worthwhile and life-changing for kids like Drew.

Drew reminds us daily to fight for each opportunity and then battle to make the most of them. I hope you’ll join me and Albion College in this opportunity to help kids with cancer – and battle until there’s a cure.

To get your team involved with Vs. Cancer, email info@vs-cancer.org or call 980-925-7557. Vs. Cancer empowers any sports team, any athlete and any community to help kids with cancer. As a signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, proceeds help fund child life programs in local hospitals and lifesaving pediatric brain tumor research.

The PBTF recently announced a partnership with University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where Drew was treated, to invest more than $500,000 in a novel immunotherapy approach for treating pediatric high-grade gliomas (pHGG). Learn more in our press release.