Virgen's View: Boy with brain tumor honored as part of UCI team

There wasn't a big match to be played on Tuesday, but a member of the UC Irvine men's volleyball team remained nervous for an important event dealing with the Anteaters.

If you were at the celebration ceremony to honor the UCI team's national championship you wouldn't notice he was a bit anxious. But you could understand his excitement.

There he was, Kevin Freeman, in his No. 1 gold jersey standing with his teammates at UCI. It was a big day for him.

"I was happy to be with everybody," Kevin said a day later.

Kevin, a 15-year-old from Irvine, became a UCI team member through a group called the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which sets up sports teams to adopt kids with brain tumors.

The Anteaters confronted challenges throughout their season, yet finished with a championship and were celebrated for their outstanding performance.

Kevin's journey continues. He was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor when he was 9. He's experienced plenty of highs and lows, along with chemotherapy and surgeries.

His family, father Steve, mother Corrine, brother Andrew and sister Julia, have held on to hope throughout the past six years. They helped him when he needed to regain speech, leg movement and coordination after his first surgery in Memphis.

The cancer appeared to be gone. Kevin went back to school and started to get back to playing ice hockey.

But it was revealed a new tumor was found in his left temporal lobe in July of 2009. He battled through 30 doses of radiation treatment in August and an additional round of chemotherapy in October. Then he underwent five additional rounds of chemo through March.

It wasn't over. After he became a part of the UCI team — shagging balls at practices and sometimes hanging out with the team after matches — doctors discovered the cancer returned last month.

On April 16, just two days before Kevin's 15th birthday, doctors confirmed the cancer was back.

Kevin will start a new low-dose long-term chemo regimen later this month. He went through surgery Thursday. He had a sub-dermal port inserted into his chest to help with infusing medicines and fluids and for taking blood samples.

"Although the outlook for patients with recurrent medulloblastoma is not pretty, we continue to have hope," Corrine said in an email.

Being a part of the UCI team has made Kevin happy and he's been excited each time he has been with the Anteaters.

"The UCI men's volleyball team has provided a welcome distraction for our family and has given Kevin an opportunity to be part of a highly successful athletic team, which is something that was taken away from him after his initial surgery," Corrine wrote. "Prior to surgery and treatment for cancer, Kevin was part of two very competitive and highly successful athletic programs. He was a competitive gymnast and a competitive ice hockey forward. Going to UCI practices (he gets a pretty good workout shagging balls) and being welcomed by the players at games, really makes him feel like he is part of the team. He enjoys their successes probably nearly as much as they do. As parents of an athlete no longer able to compete, we are definitely grateful for the time and attention given to Kevin by the wonderful men on the UCI volleyball team."

When UCI swept USC to win the national championship Saturday, Kevin was there to watch the Anteaters win their third NCAA title in the past six years. He was thrilled to be a part of it and to be with the players in the locker room after the big victory.

"It's just the coolest things when he comes to our games," said Will Montgomery, a senior who was a serve specialist this past season. "It's just awesome to have him around … [After the NCAA Championship final win] he was running on the court with us and taking pictures with us, which was awesome. He was a cool a part of the team."

UCI Coach John Speraw said he recalled back when the UCLA softball team and former coach Sue Enquist adopted a team member through Friends of Jaclyn.

Enquist now lives in Huntington Beach, Speraw said. She was asked by the group if she might know anyone in the Orange County area willing to be a part of Friends of Jaclyn.

Enquist told them to call Speraw, a former assistant of the men's volleyball team at UCLA.

"I was immediately interested," Speraw said. "Kevin has been with us a couple of years. He comes to the matches when he's healthy and can make it. He comes to practices and shags balls for us when he can. He was in the locker room with us after we won the national championship and all the guys, they all stay in touch with him and send him emails. It turned out to be a wonderful thing for everybody."

Being a part of the UCI team certainly helped Kevin's spirits.

"They treated me like one of the team members," he said Wednesday. "They treated me like they treated everybody else."

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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