STOW — A pep rally was exactly what sixth-grader Keith Burkett, known as Kourageous Keith, needed as he fights a rare undifferentiated soft tissue sarcoma cancer.
Students, friends and adults gathered last week on the football field at Lakeview Intermediate School to showed their support. September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The pep rally was what Keith needed to get his spirits up, said his mother, Taylor’e Woodard.
“To see everyone there and their support made a big difference,” Woodard said. “It’s nice to see the love and support from friends, family and community.”
Local police officers and the Metro SWAT Team brought Keith to the field in an armored vehicle. Eddie Norman has been the director of football for Stow Youth Football and Cheer for six years. For five years, the board has selected a cause for a fundraiser, and and this year they chose Keith.
“We chose Keith because he was someone in need in our community, and we wanted to put a smile on his face,” Norman said. “He was someone close to us. We want to take care of our Stow family.”
Norman spoke to the crowd at the pep rally where the cheerleaders danced and the football players cheered. They gave Keith a football and jersey along with the money raised from the event.
“We’re teaching the kids life lessons in adversity and wanted to show Keith we were standing behind him 100 percent to help him keep fighting,” Norman said. “I have kids in the school system and my heart goes out to that family.”
The 200 members of Stow Youth Football and Cheer range in age from 5 to 12, and Keith knew many of the students from Lakeview Intermediate and Riverview Elementary schools, which he attended. Many have followed his journey from when he was first diagnosed with cancer in kindergarten.
When Keith was 6 years old, he had fluid built up in his chest, Woodard said, and they took him to Akron Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve. After surgery, the family noticed lumps by his chest tubes and sought a second opinion. Cleveland Clinic did an ultrasound and discovered a tumor growing on Keith’s 11th and 12th ribs on the left side. Cancer had caused the pneumonia.
Woodward had a 4-month-old daughter and was pregnant with another child when she had to explain cancer to a 6-year-old.
“It was hard to explain, but it’s harder now because he understands everything going on,” Woodard said. “This is his fourth time getting cancer relapses. He is terminal now, and he understands that.”
The pep rally made a difference for Keith and his family.
“It’s times like this when you feel really alone, and then you have so many people reach out to you who don’t even know you, and they are so willing to help,” Woodard said. “The kindness and generosity to help a family they don’t know and love him is very humbling.”
Cancer is a word you never want to hear, Woodard said.
“The first time you hear the word cancer, you don’t want to hear he’s going to die,” Woodard said. “He’s an amazing little boy.”
Keith no longer responds to chemotherapy but receives radiation in his spine and skull to help with pain management, Woodard said. He is in hospice at home where he enjoys playing video games.
“There are no more options left,” Woodard said. “Going at something like this alone would be so hard. Family and friends with busy lives call and ask to help. The love and support makes a difference.”
Although Keith can no longer attend classes at Lakeview, he visited two weeks ago and they had a pizza party and wore yellow shirts to support him, Woodard said.
“His spirits are high for what he is going through,” Woodard said. “He lives life to the fullest. He’s not giving up. The light inside him hasn’t dimmed. He’s a fighter.”
Woodard and her husband, Adam, are taking Keith to Disney World in October when he has recovered from the latest radiation treatment. The trip is sponsored by Kids Crushing Cancer.
Woodard said she relies on love, support and never giving up to battle cancer.
“My advice to any family with something similar is don’t lose hope,” Woodard said. “Just always let people help and don’t go at it alone. It’s way too much of a burden for a person to carry by themselves.”
Woodard believes in miracles.
“Miracles happen every day, and God won’t give you something you can’t handle,” Woodard said. “But when you’re given no choice but to be strong, you surprise yourself how strong you can be.”
Readers can follow Kouragous Keith on Facebook.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.