When Langley United hosts their fourth annual Kicking Cancer fundraiser game this weekend, it will have special meaning for one of the volunteers.
“I give a lot of credit to my soccer upbringing to Langley United and what they have done for me,” explained John Kasper.
“To see a club hold an event like this means a lot.”
The 18-year-old Kasper has always loved the beautiful game, wanting to emulate his older siblings, Graham and Anna, by following them into the sport.
Cancer, however, nearly forced Kasper off the pitch.
Throughout his childhood, Kasper was an elite player for his age group, earning his way to the Whitecaps Residency Program and representing Canada at the U15 level.
But in late 2013, Kasper was stretching one day when he felt a bump.
A biopsy revealed a cancerous tumour, fibromyxoid sarcoma, in his left thigh.
“Being diagnosed with cancer as a kid is the last thing you expect to happen, I was in shock,” he said.
Kasper can tell you the exact day — June 2, 2014.
For the next five weeks, his parents, Dave and Margaret, drove him Monday to Friday from Langley to Vancouver General Hospital for daily 10-minute radiation sessions.
Kasper described his thigh as “brown and crispy and not too appealing” comparing the amount of radiation in that short span as the equivalent of being under the sun for a full day without any sunscreen.
Kasper couldn’t bear to be away from the pitch.
“(The radiation) drained all my energy but I would still drive into Burnaby to train,” he explained.
Not allowed physical contact, Kasper put his efforts into training.
“I was angry that I wasn’t able to play so I just used that and worked on my fitness as hard as I could,” he said.
“I wasn’t going to let it change my path with soccer — obviously it did — but I wasn’t going to let it bring me down.”
Following the five weeks of radiation, and then another month to let the treatment do its work, he underwent surgery in August.
Kasper remembers waking up and the scar being bigger than he imagined — it covers the full length of his thigh. While the surgery was successful, he lost five per cent of his quad muscle and there was nerve damage in the lower half of his thigh.
Doctors advised him that his high-level soccer days were over.
“I just took it as a challenge, I wanted to play again, I wanted to be on the soccer field,” Kasper explained.
Of course, it wasn’t as simple as just lacing up his soccer boots.
“I had to learn to walk again, how to climb stairs and do all that,” he said.
Three months later, Kasper was back with the Whitecaps Residency Program, but that did not mark an end to his injury woes.
Having to compensate for his left leg resulted in Kasper tearing the meniscus on both sides of his right knee, resulting in three more surgeries and more rehabilitation.
“The doctors are surprised I’m still able to play at the level I am — and the same with my coaches — but I’m not. I put in the work and I always knew I’d be back,” he said.
But through it all, a love of the game has kept him going.
“Soccer is my life,” he said. “And soccer has definitely helped me keep my head up.”
Why does the game evoke such love for Kasper?
“The passion, the happiness it brings when I am on the field. I forget everything — all I am focusing on is the game or the practice or my team.”
Kasper, a six-foot-two centreback, always envisioned soccer in his future, aspiring to play professionally.
Injuries have thrown a detour into that route, but the end goal remains the same.
He will suit up for the UFV Cascades men’s soccer team in the fall.
“My goal is still to be a professional soccer player — school is just a different route to it,” he said.
And the only thing preventing Kasper from achieving that goal is health.
“If he can maintain a run of being healthy, then he has every chance (to make it pro),” said Rich Fagan, who has coached Kasper at various levels throughout the Whitecaps Residency Program.
Kasper’s character is what really stands out, especially considering what he has endured these past few years.
“A lot of people would have quit or walked away (but) his character has helped getting him through his injuries,” Fagan said.
Fagan predicted that while Kasper may be one of the younger players on the Cascades roster, his leadership qualities will see him play a prominent role.
UFV coach Tom Lowndes is looking forward to having Kasper on the back-line.
“He’s a very hard-nosed defender, very good in the air,” the coach said in a press release announcing Kasper’s signing this past spring.
“Attackers are going to have a tough time dealing with him.”
Fourth annual Kicking Cancer
The Langley United Kicking Cancer fundraiser kicks off on Saturday at 9 a.m. at Willoughby Community Park’s S1 field with players of all ages taking their turns on the pitch all the way through the day until midnight.
This is the fourth year Langley United has hosted the event with more than $43,000 combined raised in the first three years. The money raised goes to the BC Cancer Foundation.
As of Thursday morning, $11,673 of the club’s $20,000 goal had been raised.
To donate or to register to play, click here.