Blake Berg and Nathan Goldade sport yellow bracelets on their wrists that they say they will never take off.
The wristbands are in honor of their new teammate, Landon Solberg, a 12-year-old West Fargo boy who is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Berg and Goldade, both senior guards on the Sheyenne boys basketball team, added on to an already incredible week for Solberg, the newest member of the Mustangs basketball team who has been fighting for his life since December 2017.
At 10 years old, Landon was diagnosed with Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare malignant brain tumor. He had been having what were thought to be piercing migraines and was eventually brought to the hospital, where an immense amount of fluid was found in his brain. He had brain surgery, and a tube was put in to drain the fluid. The doctor’s told the Solbergs there was a chance of brain cancer, and a biopsy was sent to confirm.
A parent’s worst nightmare came true for Travis Solberg and his wife, Andrea. Landon was given a life expectancy of one to two years when he was initially diagnosed, the general prognosis for the type of tumor he has.
There’s no chemo or effective treatment for the brain cancer Landon has. The 12-year-old is now in hospice, getting some in-home care surrounded by family and friends. For Landon, there’s no more chemo. Now, it’s comfort care and family time.
Welcoming Landon to the Mustangs
The Mustangs presented Landon, who would have been in sixth grade this year at Liberty Middle School, with a signed basketball and two embroidered home and away No. 10 jerseys, his number when he played basketball, his favorite sport.
“He's always been a huge fan of basketball and everything,” Goldade said. “He’s in the Sheyenne program. We just want to welcome him to the family, to make sure he knows that we're here for him and everything, and that he's 100% included in the program.”
It’s hard for Landon to verbalize how he’s doing right now, Travis Solberg, Landon’s dad, said. But the toothy grin spread across his son’s face was all they needed.
“You could tell he was pretty excited,” Berg said. “We got a smile out of him when we showed him the jerseys and the basketball. He was pretty happy.”
Everyone on the team got “Landon’s Lights” bracelets the day the Mustangs officially made Landon an honorary member of the squad.
Berg hasn’t taken his wristband off since that day, Aug. 29. And neither has Goldade, who said it’ll stay on forever.
Goldade remembers when Landon was in second or third grade coming to the Mustangs’ basketball camp. And he’ll always be in the back of the team’s minds, whether they’re on the court or in practice.
“Anything that we’re doing, we’ll know Landon is with us,” Goldade said.
Landon brings the Mustangs motivation every day, Berg added.
Sheyenne head boys basketball coach Tom Kirchoffner also remembers when Landon came to their camp a few years back, and he wanted to officially make Landon a part of the program.
“We just wanted to carry on his light,” Kirchoffner said. “Carry on what he stands for on the back of the shirts. It’s about happiness and bringing that into the world. He’s battling through a tough journey and doing a heck of a job.”
The exchange meant just as much to the Mustangs as it did for Landon, Travis said.
“You know, at that age, there’s a lot of things you could be doing on a Thursday afternoon,” Travis said of the members on the basketball team. “And they all went out of their way and took the time to come over and do that... Being able to come over and see him, and do something really nice for a kid who is really battling something — it’s amazing what all these kids in this community have done. They just have a maturity level that you don't expect from kids at that age.”
An incredible week
The embroidered blue and white jerseys Landon will now sport that boast his first name on one and Solberg on the other came a day before Landon received a FaceTime call from his favorite singer, Taylor Swift, on Aug. 30.
Landon’s closest friends created a video, which now has over 22,000 views, on Aug. 20, that told his story and asked Swift for a tweet, autograph or anything. His story gained national attention, and Swift, as well as 20,000 other people at the time, saw the video. Ten days later, he got a call from the singer herself.
But the exciting week kicked off a couple days earlier. Two days before Swift called, the North Dakota State men’s basketball team and their head coach Dave Richman presented Landon with a Summit League Championship ring, a band he had specifically made for Landon.
In March, Richman, the Solbergs' neighbor, wore a “Landon’s Light” t-shirt when the Bison, Landon’s favorite basketball team, played Duke in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament.
The Solbergs can’t thank the community enough.
“Obviously, it's not any situation that any parent wants to be in,” Travis said. “But we've just been so embraced by everybody.”
Landon has been battling his brain stem tumor since he was 10 years old. And unfortunately, the prognosis the family was given when he was diagnosed, is nearing.
He has gone through a few rounds of radiation, one in Fargo and two different trials in Cincinnati.
At first, every day after school for six weeks, Landon went through radiation in Fargo. After that was ineffective, he got into a trial in Ohio.
Over a year ago in April and into May, the Solbergs were in Cincinnati for five weeks while Landon was battling through another trial. They would then go back about every month after that for the next dose of chemo. The trial wasn’t effective.
He got into a second trial in Cincinnati, which would be his last, earlier this summer in July. Landon went through radiation and doses of chemo for over a month. That trial, too, wasn’t effective.
Throughout all the hospital rooms, trials, traveling, chemo and radiation, Landon has been accepting of everything that has happened.
“He knows there’s a better place where we ultimately end up, every one of us,” Travis said. “He’s handled it far beyond how a lot of adults would handle it, which has been a life lesson for my wife and I.”
Landon and his light shine far beyond his room in his West Fargo home, which he shares with his parents, a 3-year-old brother, and a sister who's in fourth grade. The Solbergs feel blessed to live where they do, and that Landon’s story gets shared.
“That’s really what it’s about for us,” he said. “People doing nice and heartwarming things for Landon, making life better for him.”