When Avon junior Robby Brisco, 16, went to the doctor early this year because of knee pain he felt during three months of playing soccer, snowboarding and skiing, it seemed like a sports injury.
But in February, doctors discovered a Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumor in his femur above his knee, a rare form of bone cancer with only a few documented cases worldwide.
“It’s a thing of awareness,” Doug Brisco, his father, said. “It’s not something you think about when your kid has a knee injury.”
As soon as the junior varsity soccer captain’s teammates found out, they wanted to help. So, , a five-versus-five soccer tournament, was a natural idea, Avon head varsity soccer coach Patrick Mulligan said.
Avon High School boys and girls soccer players, coaches and alumni, including his brothers and at least one 1997 graduate, are signed up. Registration is full, but each participant is contributing a $13 fee – symbolizing Brisco’s jersey number for Avon High and his Bristol-based club team, AJAX.
“The Briscos themselves, having three kids [Will, Thomas and Robby] that have already come through in multiple sports, have touched a lot of lives,” said Mulligan, who encourages people to come watch.
The event is scheduled for Saint Patrick’s Day from 9 a.m. to noon at the Avon High School gyms. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. T-shirts and Rob’s Really Good drinks will also be on sale. Proceeds will benefit children’s bone cancer research and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where Brisco goes for chemotherapy every 14 days.
He’s had two rounds of chemo already, Doug Brisco said. The treatment will go on for six to nine months, followed by radiation. He will also need surgery during the chemo, his father said.
“He’s responded very well from a physical standpoint,” said Doug Brisco. “He is still eating very well. The most outward sign of his treatment is loss of hair and he’s on crutches.”
While Doug Brisco said that Robby will probably never play contact sports again, Mulligan welcomes him to be involved in the soccer program from the sidelines.
David Zlatin, Brisco’s track and junior varsity soccer coach, said that spring will mark the first time he hasn’t coached a Brisco.
“It’s a shame too because to see him grow as a player, he went through a lot from a freshman year to sophomore injury,” Zlatin said. “Junior year he kind of found his niche. We’re not going to ever see how it plays out unfortunately.”
Brisco is hoping to attend the tournament, as well as the Hope Kicks Charity Soccer Tournament on Saturday that will benefit his family. His AJAX coach, Leszek Wrona is running the five-versus-five soccer tournament at his 541 North Main St. indoor facility. Players under 13 to adults are registered. It goes from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Beyond the tournaments, community members have been delivering homemade dinners to the Briscos almost every night. Robby has also received gifts, including an iPad, laptop and TV.
“The breadth and depth of response has been something I never realized was there and that it was something we would need,” Doug Brisco said.
Ultimately, Robby just wants to lead a normal life, he said. Robby is being tutored. He visits friends at school when he is up to it, but his family has to keep an eye on his white blood cell count. He finds ways to keep his spirits up, whether its talking to friends while playing video games, watching The Office or eating a Chipotle steak burrito. His quick-witted sense of humor is still there, his father said.
One of Robby’s sports idols, Tony Romo, quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, even wrote him a message on his father’s CaringBridge.com web page, where he documents Robby’s progress. Anyone interested in reading Doug's updates can register for a free account on the website and search for it under RobbyBrisco.
Mulligan credits Robby’s mental toughness to having two competitive older brothers.
“Them pushing him all the time made him a tough kid,” Mulligan said. “We’re hoping that strength will help pull him through.”
Editor's Note: The original version of this story reported that Brisco's tumor is above his femur and that he will need surgery after chemotherapy. The tumor is actually in his femur above his knee and he will undergo surgery during the chemo. These mistakes have been corrected.
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