WEST FARGO — Brandon Steinhauer had a simple plan for his final semester of high school.

"I just wanted to have fun and enjoy life," he said. "Take in my senior year before it's over."

Much of that enjoyment was going to come on the baseball field. An infielder and cleanup hitter at West Fargo High School, Steinhauer was set to play a key role for a Packer team looking to make a tenth consecutive state tournament appearance.

From there, he'd be off to Northern State University in the fall to begin a college football career as an offensive lineman for the Wolves.

But three weeks into the season, his hopes for a smooth finish to his high school days were severely dashed.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

After battling a week-long cough, Brandon's mom Colleen Steinhauer woke on the morning of April 19 with significant bruising on her chest and abdomen and blood spots on her tongue. Concerned, she went for tests at the Sanford Health Broadway Campus in Fargo, where she works as an Inpatient Nurse Manager.

The news wasn't good. Tests revealed she had Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, a condition that leads to a shortage of normal white and red blood cells and platelets in the body.

While the disease is highly curable -- the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society says 90 percent of patients go into complete remission -- the diagnosis required Colleen to be admitted to the oncology unit of the hospital for 30 days, a stay that became extended after she had poor reactions to her medication.

During her hospitalization, Brandon's father Jon Steinhauer says he spent just three nights at the family home, sleeping most evenings in his wife's room on an air mattress that eventually wore down to the point of being unusable.

With he and sister Lauren, a sophomore at West Fargo, left on their own most nights, Brandon says he had to grow up in a hurry.

"It was a big process of maturing because a lot of priorities were kind of shifted with what I had to do to keep things running in my life," he said. "I had to work through that to make (myself) more mature and stronger."

Luckily, he had plenty of help.

Shortly after Colleen's diagnosis, Jon created a page on the website CaringBridge, where he posted regular updates on her progress and provided several donation links, including a gofundme page.

Perhaps the most significant donation came via Meal Train, a crowd sourced food delivery organization Jon says will be delivering fresh meals to their home through the end of June.

Brandon's baseball teammates have also lifted some of the burden off him.

West Fargo senior Brandon Steinhauer and teammates sport bracelets in support of his mother.
David Samson / The Forum
West Fargo senior Brandon Steinhauer and teammates sport bracelets in support of his mother. David Samson / The Forum

Within a week of Colleen's diagnosis, fellow senior and friend Derrick Miraldi had worked with his mother to arrange for orange bracelets -- orange is the color of Leukemia awareness -- to be distributed and worn by everyone on the team.

"I just thought it would be a nice gesture to support Brandon," Miraldi said. "Show him we're here for him and we have his back."

Shortly thereafter, the team was sporting a second bracelet, one ordered by a family friend imprinted with the phrase "Colleen Strong."

While the family is selling those bracelets to help pay Colleen's medical expenses, an early batch was given to Brandon's teammates for free. Within days, demand was so high they'd gone through their entire supply.

"It's awesome the way people want to wear them," Brandon said. "They don't feel like they're forced to."

"To see the support he's had on this team and all the kids getting behind him and kind of lift his spirits up was such a great inspiration," Jon added. "It's one of those little things that makes going through this process positive."

Recently, there's also been positive news on the health front.

Last Friday, a bone marrow biopsy revealed that Leukemia was no longer present in Colleen's system. Unable to leave the Sanford seventh floor for more than five weeks, she was discharged and returned home on Memorial Day.

After hugging his wife -- as well as her doctors and nurses -- Jon texted the good news to his son, who was in class.

"I pulled out my phone and I looked at (the message) and I couldn't stop smiling," Brandon said. "It felt like there was nothing wrong for the first time in awhile. Once that was taken care of you feel really free, like there's nothing on your back anymore and you don't have to worry as much."

That relaxed attitude seemed to pay big dividends on the field 24 hours later. After an 0-of-6 start at the plate in the East Region Tournament, Brandon caught fire in a state qualifier against Devils Lake, going 3-for-5 with five RBIs, helping the Packers reach state again with a 13-6 win.

With the first wave of treatment over, Colleen now begins an eight-month outpatient treatment process. When that's complete, Jon says doctors told him that they are very confident she'll stay in remission and that she'd likely have a clean bill of health in three-to-five years.

And while the family won't be able to travel to Minot for the Class A state tournament, where the Packers open play at 2 p.m. against Dickinson Thursday, Colleen is expected to attend her son's high school graduation on Sunday.

"That'll be fantastic," Jon said.

After being unable to see any of his baseball games following her diagnosis, Colleen's next treatment plan that will leave her wide open for all travel opportunities this fall, as Brandon looks to carve out a role as a true freshman on the Northern State football team.

Planning to leave for school in August, Brandon isn't planning to take his final months at home for granted, as he intends to do everything he can to reclaim the simple life he planned to enjoy at the start of spring.

"Now that my mom's home again, I'll get to spend a lot of time with my family and really cherish the couple months I have before I go to college," he said.