It’s 4 p.m. on a Tuesday in the Kanakanui’s backyard in Lawrenceville, Ga. Bryan Cole is busy teaching the oldest son, Noah, how to execute a behind-the-back pass while Shayne Jackson and the Georgia Swarm’s mascot, Stinger, try to keep up with the indefatigable energy younger brother Liam displays.
Cole shows Noah where the stick head should be, telling him to keep it high and not dip. With a serious show of concentration, Noah tries again and watches as the ball launches forward the right way. He celebrates, high-fiving Cole and Stinger before returning to his game of catch.
Noah and Liam’s parents, Glenna and Steven, stand on the patio, watching and laughing with unburdened smiles, grateful to see Noah so active and clearly enjoying his time with the two professional lacrosse players.
It’s one of the best ways to send the family off before they head down to Jacksonville for the next six weeks. In Florida, Noah will receive proton radiation treatments following his successful brain surgery to remove a tumor a month ago.
“I can only imagine what him and his family have been going through,” Jackson said. “It’s really inspiring to see him have a positive outlook and running around and still acting like a normal kid. You wouldn’t have even known he was sick.”
Noah had been experiencing frequent headaches for a while. After visiting an ophthalmologist, it was discovered that an optic nerve was swollen, and the family was referred to the ER at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta – Scottish Rite. There, doctors detected the brain tumor and were able to operate quickly.
The rapid escalation of events left the family understandably dazed, but the quick turnaround turned out to be a blessing.
“We were at lacrosse practice the Wednesday before,” Steven said. “Four days later, he’s having surgery. So, you’ve got that Friday, Monday he had surgery, and the surgery went well. They quoted us a seven-and-a-half-hour surgery time, ended up going in four-and-a-half. It was good. They removed the tumor, both MRIs looked good, nothing was on his spine or anything.”
Following the surgery, the doctor informed Glenna and Steven that the tumor was a medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that makes up roughly 20 percent of all childhood brain tumors. The medulloblastoma was pressing on Noah’s cerebellum, and because of the swelling, his spinal fluid wasn’t draining the way it was supposed to. This caused his optic nerve to swell up and the nine-year-old to experience headaches.
They had to wait for Noah’s spinal fluid to replenish to perform a spinal tap and see if there were any other issues. The Kanakanui’s received the results from the spinal tap earlier this week; the tests came back negative.
Within this whirlwind diagnosis and treatment, any good news is weight off the family’s shoulders.
“All the small W’s, man; we couldn’t ask for more,” Steven said. “You’ve got to take them all.”
Now the family prepares to leave for Jacksonville, where Steven is from, for the next six weeks. Noah will undergo proton radiation therapy at UF Proton Therapy Institute. But before he left, the Georgia Swarm had to visit him.
The Swarm found out about Noah from one of its season ticket holders, Stacey Gyorgyi, whose son plays with Noah on the Grayson Rams fall team. Noah had to miss time due to his diagnosis, and when the team was informed, the support the Kanakanui’s received was “awesome.”
“They sent him a hype video of them all jumping around at the game, and they’re winning,” Steven said. “(Noah) loved that. I think it was Wednesday. He was still in the hospital. He was awake and coherent, just a little out of it. But that was one of the biggest smiles since, just watching that video of the team gathering around.”
A GoFundMe page was created for the Kanakanui’s to help with the health bills and lost wages. The Rams families blasted the page across social media outlets, asking the local lacrosse community for any assistance. When the Swarm found out about Noah from Gyorgyi, the team immediately reached out to see how it could help.
“(Swarm Director of Media & Lacrosse Relations) Alec Schimke, he got in touch with us and said there was an opportunity to go over and visit Noah,” Jackson said, “and myself and Bryan Cole, we absolutely said yes and wanted to go over there and meet Noah and hang out with him, even if it was for a couple of hours.”
With Stinger accompanying and lacrosse sticks and a swag bag in hand, the group visited the Kanakanui’s home on Tuesday afternoon to meet the family. Liam made a new best friend in Stinger while Noah practiced with the pros, eventually donning his gloves to take shots on Jackson in net.
Noah and Liam’s cousins ended up dropping by to hang out with the Kanakanui’s before they left for Florida and joined in the play. Noah ended up talking Fortnite with Cole towards the end of the afternoon, showing him his game skins and dance moves in exchange for learning the BTB pass.
All the while, Glenna and Steven watch on as Noah, with his love for lacrosse on full display, did the most natural thing in the world for a kid to do: just have fun.
“I think it’s great, supporting the community,” Steven said about the Swarm spending time with the family. “Never met you guys before in our lives. I really think it’s great that you just picked up and wanted to come out here. He loves it, honestly. He was looking forward to it.”
“It means everything,” Jackson said. “For Bryan and myself, to be able to play the sport that we love at the professional level and go and meet kids that maybe one day would want to play in the same league we do, that means everything. It’s hard not to get emotional when you’re there.”
Cole and Jackson made sure the connection established with the Kanakanui family didn’t end there. They asked the Glenna and Steven to message them while down in Jacksonville so the two Swarm players could keep updated on how things are progressing with Noah.
“Once they get back, we’re going to get them to a game, and we’re going to take them down to the dressing room and meet all the guys,” Jackson said. “I think the guys would like to meet Noah, also, and his little brother, Liam, who’s a blast.”
For families in the Gwinnett Lacrosse League, the Swarm has created a special fundraiser benefitting the Kanakanui family. By visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/Code and entering the promo code GLL, fans can purchase tickets to Georgia’s Home Opener against the Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday, Dec. 1. For every ticket bought using the promo code, a $4 donation will be made to the Kanakanui family.
If you also wish to make a donation directly to the Kanakanui family, please visit their GoFundMe page.