The Sun-Times is spotlighting Smyrna students affected by cancer during the "Be Bold, Go Gold" fundraising campaign by the Smyrna High Lettermen's Club. This story focuses on 2017 Smyrna High graduate Colby Atkinson who is recovering from leukemia and how he's helping other students with cancer. See a list of upcoming fundraisers at the end of this story.
For Smyrna High School graduate Colby Atkinson, defeating leukemia has been a team effort – starting with his family and friends and extending to the school district, community and throughout the state.
Supporters through his diagnosis, treatment and recovery include teachers, staff, classmates, the high school football team, Little League baseball program, the University of Delaware baseball team, doctors and nurses at Nemours A.I. du Pont Hospital for Children, the B+ Foundation and Kay’s Kamp.
Colby, 19, is now majoring in sports management at the University of Delaware.
“My goal is to try to be a football or baseball coach for a professional team or a sports agent,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s been helping some of the groups that helped him and his family while he was going through treatment and recovering from leukemia.
He’s volunteered to help with “UDance,” a fundraiser for the Andrew McDonough B+ (Be Positive) Foundation which helps children with cancer and their families. Atkinson serves as the liaison between university sports teams and children with cancer. The athletes “adopt” a child, known as a “B+ Hero” and participate in a variety of activities together.
Atkinson was once a B+ Hero himself.
“I was matched with the University of Delaware baseball team after I was diagnosed in high school,” he said. “The team did a ‘Colby Calendar’ as a fundraiser. I got to hang out in the dugout with the team during games. I went fishing and went out to eat with some of the players. It was a lot of fun.”
Now, he makes sure when a B+ Hero is going to be at a game, the team is ready to welcome the child, and he also helps arrange other activities with the athletes and B+ Heroes.
Atkinson has also helped at Kay’s Kamp in Middletown for children with cancer, a program he attended while recovering from leukemia. This past summer, Atkinson served as a leader-in-training, and next year he plans to serve as a camp counselor.
“Kay’s Kamp is great,” Atkinson said. “It’s a place where kids can be themselves because everyone’s going through the same thing. Nobody thinks they’re different. A kid can be a kid and have fun.”
Atkinson said Kay’s Kamp made a big difference in his life, and he made friends that he’s continued to keep in touch with.
“It helped me out a lot and I had a lot of fun,” he said. “I wanted to give back and help because it means a lot to me.”
Atkinson still has to take medicine as he continues to get stronger. The effects of chemotherapy and the bone marrow transplant have made him more susceptible to a variety of illnesses because of a weakened immune system.
“I’m feeling pretty good now,” he said. “I’m not fully back yet, but I’m living life to the fullest and trying to enjoy it.”
Diagnosis and treatment
Atkinson wasn’t feeling well in the fall of 2013 even though he had just finished a summer playing Little League baseball and was competing on the freshman football team.
“I was really hot. I was tired. I bruised a lot,” he said in an earlier interview with the Sun-Times.
But he said those symptoms didn’t really cause any alarm because he expected to be tired and a little bruised after playing football.
However, the symptoms grew worse and after receiving blood tests, he was diagnosed with leukemia Dec. 3, 2013.
On April 17, 2014, after five months of chemotherapy, Colby had a life-saving bone marrow transplant from his mother, Smyrna High School math specialist Virginia Atkinson.
After the transplant, recovery has been a slow process as his body rebuilds strength and endurance.
“He’s my hero,” said Virginia in an earlier Sun-Times interview. “We call April 17 his ‘rebirth day.’ He ‘cell-abrated’ with new cells.”
Virginia said her son has kept a positive attitude throughout his treatment.
“We’ve tried to maintain that as a family – that this is the hand we’ve been dealt. We can’t control that, but we can control the attitude we have and how we deal with it,” she said. “It’s changed our perspective on things. You reprioritize what’s really important in your life. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but now we have more good days than bad.”
During his recovery, Colby stayed involved with the Smyrna High football team, and served as a student-coach during his senior season.
“I had been thinking about being a coach as a career and that experience helped me along that path,” he said.
‘Be Bold, Go Gold’ programs in district schools
Virginia Atkinson and fellow teacher Jennifer Lindell have been organizing the “Be Bold, Go Gold” fundraisers in the Smyrna School District with the help of the Lettermen’s Club at Smyrna High to help children with cancer.
Fundraisers so far have included hat days, jeans days and wear gold days at the schools along with bake sales and donation collections at sports events. Meanwhile, special announcements and ceremonies at sports events help raise awareness.
The Lettermen’s Club is donating the funds to the B+ Foundation and Kay’s Kamp to help children with cancer.
“These events help raise awareness for people who don’t know how many children and families that cancer affects right here in our community,” said Colby, “and they raise funds for the B+ Foundation and Kay’s Kamp which really help the kids and their families.”
The Smyrna High School Lettermen’s Club is planning a variety of “Be Bold, Go Gold” fundraisers this year in which the public can participate, including some that stretch into October.
• Sept. 19 – Dine for a Cure Night at Pat’s Select Pizza Grill, 41 E. Glenwood Ave., Smyrna, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Sept. 26 – Smyrna High School volleyball game, 5 p.m.
• Oct. 1 – Smyrna High junior varsity football game, 4 p.m.
•Oct. 3 – Smyrna High freshman football game, 4 p.m.
• Oct. 5 – Smyrna High varsity football game, 7 p.m.
At the games, donations will be accepted and a variety of gold-colored items such as t-shirts will be on sale to support the cause. The Lettermen’s Club is also planning bake sales at some events.