Springfield 8-year-old fighting cancer ‘like a warrior’

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Barrett Fitzsimmons, 7, of Springfield, visits Michigan Stadium at invitation of Jim Harbaugh.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Barrett Fitzsimmons will play his first football game Sunday

Barrett Fitzsimmons will step on a football field for the first time as a player at 12:30 p.m. Sunday when his Northwestern Warriors host the Rolling Hills Bears.

That’s a big deal for any 8-year-old. It’s a bigger deal for this second grader. Fitzsimmons has battled cancer since May of 2016. Since last December, he has undergone four surgeries, including one on Aug. 3 to remove three tumors from his lung.

»PHOTOS: Barrett at Michigan Stadium

Fitzsimmons practiced two or three times before the surgery and slowly worked his way back to the team after the surgery. Now doctors have cleared him for contact. He will line up at tight end and defensive end.

“He’s so excited,” said Barrett’s dad, Brad Fitzsimmons, on Tuesday. “He’s counting down. Yesterday we went on a camping trip. We got home, and he said, ‘How many days until my game?’ We said, ‘There are six days.’ He said, ‘That’s too long.’”

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Barrett Fitzsimmons, 8, poses for a photo in his football uniform. Submitted photo

Barrett Fitzsimmons, 8, poses for a photo in his football uniform. Submitted photo

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Barrett Fitzsimmons, 8, poses for a photo in his football uniform. Submitted photo

Football is Barrett's favorite sport. He has gravitated toward the sport, Brad said, ever since a gesture by Michigan Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh in June of 2016.

While coaching at a camp at Springfield High School, Harbaugh invited Barrett to a game at Michigan Stadium. That September, Harbaugh made good on the promise. The Fitzsimmons watched Michigan play Colorado, met Harbaugh and the players and got a tour of the stadium.

All the while, Fitzsimmons continued to fight Hepatocellular Carcinoma Stage 4, which was first diagnosed when doctors found a mass on his liver during an ultrasound to check a bladder problem.

Brad said his son is doing very well.

“Ever since this started, he’s put on about 20 pounds, and he’s grown about 3 inches,” Brad said. “His appetite has increased. His stamina has increased. He’s tolerated chemo very well. He hasn’t had chemo since February. His side effects have been very minimal. He’s been through it like a warrior. His recovery has gotten quicker each time. This last surgery was supposed to be his most painful, and he said it was his easiest.”

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Barrett Fitzsimmons, 7, poses for a photo with Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Submitted photo

Barrett Fitzsimmons, 7, poses for a photo with Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Submitted photo

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Barrett Fitzsimmons, 7, poses for a photo with Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. Submitted photo

It has been a nerve-wracking time for the family, to say the least. Brad spoke to the News-Sun on Tuesday, a day before an important monthly checkup.

“Tomorrow is a big day for us,” Brad said, “We’ve got a scan that possibly could be the first one that shows no signs of disease. We’re praying like crazy that we’re going to get to the point that — it’s crazy to say — he could be cancer free.”

The family received good news on Wednesday. Barrett's mom, Lana Fitzsimmons, shared the news on the Barrett Strong page on Facebook. More than 3,000 people follow Barrett's story and show their support through the page.

“SCANS ARE CLEAR!!!!!!” Lana wrote. “Oncologist wants to stay on top of everything and is referring us to Cincinnati for localized radiation. We should be hearing from them in a week or 2. Radiation schedule would be 5 days a week for 6 or more weeks.”

Now Barrett can focus on his big game. Rolling Hills will support Barrett by wearing wristbands.

“I believe they are getting shirts made up for the parents that say, ‘Bears for Barrett,’” Brad said. “I played football for Rolling Hills. It’s kind of ironic that his first game is against my former team.”

Chris Anderson, president of the Rolling Hills Youth Football Association, said they will donate $1,200 from the Rolling Hills Bears community to the Fitzsimmons family to help them with medical expenses.

“It kind of hit home for all of us,” Anderson said. “Everybody in the Rolling Hills and KR community has always reached out and helped in any way possible with Barrett.”

The Barrett Strong wristbands are popular. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto wore one during a game in Atlanta earlier this season. The whole team signed a T-shirt for Barrett.

“That was really cool,” Brad said. “He knows the Reds. He’s been to a couple games. He was excited. When we found out that, we went to BW3 and watched the Reds game trying to catch Votto wearing the bracelet.”

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