Niagara Gazette

April 6, 2014

Benefit for 17-year-old brain cancer patient draws big crowd

Benefit for 17-year-old brain cancer patient draws big crowd Saturday

By Timothy Chipp timothy.chipp@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Nathan Brundage knew he had to smile Saturday. As he got dressed in the morning, the 17-year-old volunteer firefighter prepared himself to entertain about a thousand of his closest friends and family members.

Even the ones he’d never met before.

Every last person he shook hands with, in his presence because a six-centimeter tumor was discovered in his brain this past winter, offered words of encouragement or a smile of their own.

Considering the past couple weeks the young man’s endured, the party atmosphere packed in to the Lewiston No. 2 Fire Co. hall for a benefit in his honor helped ease his mind, he said.

“It’s been pretty much a waiting game because my platelets have been low,” he said. “So we’ve been trying to get those back up. They’ve slowly gone back up, so that’s good news for me. I like hearing that news. But this is even better. That you can have a benefit like this, laugh with everybody, have a good time, take your mind off things, it’s great.”

Nathan was diagnosed with grade-IV glioblastoma, a type of cancer that forms from the glue-like supportive tissue of the brain, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. Highly reproductive and fueled by the body’s natural blood flow, the association reports these cancers are highly malignant and come with few treatment options and rather grim patient outlooks five years out.

It began when he was hit in the head during a dodgeball game in gym class. The Niagara-Wheatfield High School junior shrugged it off as a possible concussion, though his mother, Angela Price, said less than a month later, Nathan was displaying stroke-like symptoms.

He underwent surgery but his family was warned there was more than a chance the volunteer firefighter, who’d given his last two years in service to Lewiston No. 2, could emerge paralyzed or worse. Instead, doctors told his family the procedure removed about 95 percent of the tumor, which was located behind his nose.

It was great news, but the family quickly learned their financial situation wasn’t prosperous, what with their son undergoing brain surgery and suddenly on chemotherapy. In stepped Sandy Johnson, a volunteer at the fire hall and a family friend of Price for years.

Johnson took it upon herself to begin organizing the benefit held Saturday. Gathering a few friends, it turned into a large group of volunteers looking to assist the family any way they could.

What shocked everyone, though, was the response from the public. Lines formed out the door and snaked around the building. Parking at the fire hall filled up and forced traffic to be diverted to a nearby church, where a shuttle picked up and dropped off attendees. A few days ago, there were about 170 baskets for attendees to attempt to win.

At the evening’s conclusion, though, more than 400 baskets, 100 gift cards and about 30 larger value items were raffled off. It really demonstrated the community’s support, Johnson said.

“We had donations coming in steady for a couple of months,” she said. “But the last two to three weeks was when we started to get a lot of phone calls, a lot of drop-offs and the last two days we just filled the (hall) with baskets. Even after 2 p.m. people were showing up with more baskets. The Buffalo community and the Niagara Falls community comes together really well, the brotherhood of the fire hall has really come up huge. Thank you to everyone who’s helped, who’s donated, who’s supported us. We couldn’t be happier.”

What’s more encouraging was the organizers sold out of attendance 90 minutes before the event was expected to shut down. They scrambled to figure out a way to figure out how to allow more people in the door.

“The turnout was more than we ever could’ve expected,” Johnson said. “It’s crazy. We’re overwhelmed but excited to see this many people here and we just couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

“It’s amazing to see so many people come out and people we’ve never even met before in our lives,” Nathan’s  brother, Matt Brundage, said. “It’s just crazy, it’s really awesome.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251, or follow on Twitter @timchipp.