Cheering through cancer
Woman fights by watching sons play football
FREEBURG, Ill. — There is nothing Kirt and Julie Stone of Freeburg enjoy doing more than watching their sons, Logan and Lucas, play football.
The Stone family’s love of the sport began several years ago when the boys joined the Freeburg Little Midgets. It’s only grown as first Logan and then Lucas, donned the blue and white of the Freeburg High School team, the News-Democrat of Belleville, Ill., reported.
“We are a football family,” Julie Stone told the News-Democrat.
The Stones also are a family that knows about adversity.
Twice in the past three years, Julie has faced a battle with cancer, including her 2017 diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer in her lymph node and her hip.
After undergoing 8 1/2 months of chemotherapy, a recent PET scan showed the cancer was gone. But the 48-year-old mother knows the aggressive cancer will return. She is currently undergoing radiation treatments on “hot spots” under her arm.
Julie is using this time to do what Dr Guillermo Rodriguez of the Siteman Center in Swansea advises. She’s resting her body for another, inevitable fight.
On Sept. 14, Julie and Kirt Stone were in Breese, sitting on the visitors’ side bleachers at Mater Dei High School watching as the Midgets took on the Knights in a battle of undefeated teams. It’s the kind of setting where a football family can unwind, even with the threat of cancer’s return.
Lucas Stone, a 5-10, 195-pound sophomore linebacker / running back, was credited with a pair of tackles. Logan, a 5-8, 220-pound running back / nose guard was on the sldeline with a knee injury he suffered earlier in the season. The senior was wearing his Midgets No. 30 jersey to support his brother and other teammates.
Mater Dei, scoring in every quarter, broke away for a 56-28 win. What mattered most to Julie and Kirt Stone — wearing their specially made “Freeburg Rolling Stones” T-shirt — were the moments.
Logan sticks strictly to football, while Lucas has competed in basketball and football and may give track a try.
But football has always been among their favorite activities.
“When the Junior Midgets started their program I believe Lucas was seven. We asked them if they were interested in playing football and they both just jumped on it,” Kirt Stone said. The boys had different coaches when they played for the Freeburg Little Midgets. Dave Wolf and Pat Wolf. Their family has been just great to our boys
“When both the boys got to high school last year, Pat had these (rolling stone) T-shirts made for just our family. They are wonderful people.”
But because of the side effects and cancer treatments, Julie missed a few of her sons activities. That has been tough for everybody.
“It was difficult for me because she couldn’t come to some of my games,” Lucas said. “It’s just nice to be able to see her sitting in the stands enjoying watching my brother and I play football.”
But the Stone brothers have gutted it out through their mother’s illness, said Freeburg coach Ronnie Stuart.
“They have been great kids through it all. If you didn’t ask them how she was doing you wouldn’t even know there was anything going on. They just go about their business here as students and athletes every day. And they are a tremendously close-knit family,” Stuart said.
“They are great students in the classroom. excellent, very respectful of their peers and teachers and coaches … They are just the type of kids you like to have in your program.”
Julie’s first bout with cancer began on March 18, 2015, when a tumor broke through the bottom of her left breast. After making sure Lucas and Logan were taken to school, Kirt rushed his hemorrhaging wife to the hospital. The diagnosis was stage 4 breast cancer.
“I had it in my breast, my lungs and my liver,” Stone said. “No surgery was performed, but I underwent chemotherapy, four doses of the very powerful chemotherapy treatment ‘red devil’ and other cancer fighting chemotherapy medications.”
By January 2016, Julie said, she was cancer free.
“When I was in the hospital and Kirt and his dad went home to tell the boys what was going on with me. At first they didn’t react to what they were just told because we don’t think they realized how serious it was and how close they were to losing me,” she said.
Kirt Stone remembers that morning as “scary.”
“It was hard for her and for the family,” he said. “The chemo worked great but there were times when it was very difficult. We just had to buckle down as a family.”
Lucas and Logan also saw their lives change in a big way. In addition to going to school, competing in sports and then coming home and doing homework, both sons also had to pitch in with household chores.
“It’s very hard to focus on playing football when your mom is sick,” Logan said. “She just told Lucas and me to focus and have fun playing the game. But when you look up in the stands and she’s not there, but your grandparents are, that’s hard for us because we are close family and we both know how much it means to her to watch us play.”
Kirt detained Julie’s health and progress with a daily blog, which in turn helped mobilize support from the community.
“I did that for almost 1 1/2 years It was informational so that people were kept up to date on how Julie was feeling. but it also helped me get things off my chest.”
Logan will graduate from Freeburg High School in May and plans on attending Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to major in mass communications. Lucas has three more years at Freeburg and would like to continue competing in college.
Mostly, the Stones are enjoying a respite from cancer and the chance to focus on being a football family.
“The boys have been very strong through this,” Julie said. “They understood and they listened. They weren’t exactly themselves, but who would be? We are so very proud of them.”