Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Landon Kafka
September 10th, 2013
MONMOUTH – Pete Finnegan began fall practices with Western Oregon University football team Aug. 15, battling for the starting long snapper position.
Two weeks later, Finnegan found himself in a completely different battle.
He was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma.
“It started out as a lump in my groin,” Finnegan said. “It has actually been there since about seventh grade and I never thought anything of it because it never hurt.”
That lump became swollen and uncomfortable during the first day of practice.
“I finished practice that day, but then went in for an MRI the next week and they found it was a swollen lymphnode,” Finnegan said.
On Aug. 28, Finnegan was in surgery, getting a biopsy on that lymphnode. The next day the doctors would call, giving the Finnegan family the news that it was lymphoma, a diagnosis the doctors thought was unlikely at first.
“My blood work up to that point was fine, so they figured it was benign, but my dad called me with the results while I was walking out of the cafeteria after morning football practice,” Finnegan said. “My first reaction was `OK,’ and I wanted to know what the plan of attack was.”
Non-Hodgkins B-cell lymphoma was diagnosed 16.6 per 100,000 men and women in the United States between 2006 and 2010. It isn’t very common in people as young as Finnegan (age 20); only 4.4 percent of the cases were diagnosed in people under 34.
After hearing the news, Finnegan informed WOU trainer Kurtis Kidd.
“I don’t think it had really sunk in at that point, maybe it hasn’t yet,” Finnegan said. “He asked me if I wanted to tell the team, but I figured I would be too emotional to do it, so he did.”
Finnegan finished out the day at practice and met with his family at home in Monmouth, the first time they were all together after hearing the news.
“We had a moment together, Pete is so common sense that it was hard to talk about the emotional side of it,” Sue Finnegan, Pete’s mother said. “I think it had an effect on Ben, he is pretty quiet generally, but I don’t know if he has had time to process.”
As the family was discussing its plan of attack, Sue reached out to Central football coach Shane Hedrick to see if he could spend some time with Ben, just a night before the Panthers’ Aug. 31 opener at La Salle.
“There is a lot more to coaching than just the game,” Hedrick said. “We establish relationships with these kids and when one has something like that happens they know we are all here for them.”
After some base line tests last week and the installation of a port (for easier intravenous therapy) Finnegan had his first chemotherapy treatment on Friday.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect, other than it would be a long day,” Finnegan said.
He wasn’t alone, though, as at 6 a.m. he received a text from longtime friend Ty Whittmore telling him everything would be OK, and his brother Trey Whittmore sent Finnegan a picture via Twitter with his head shaved and the caption “Pete Strong”.
The day before, Branden Cutsforth another teammate and friend from Central High school was leaving for Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, but not before he stopped by with bananas and yogurt because he read on the Internet, those were good things to eat during chemotherapy, Sue Finnegan said. He then took Ben out to lunch.
“It’s hard to wrap our heads around everything in the last two weeks, but the support from the community and our family friends has been getting us through,” Sue Finnegan said.
Pete Finnegan woke up fine on Saturday, the day after his first treatment, everything was almost normal, except his team was in Eastern Washington and he was watching it on TV at home.
“The coaches (at WOU) have been supportive,” Pete Finnegan said. “They know what I am taking on is bigger than football.”
With that said, the biggest thing for Finnegan is getting back on the field.
“I can’t control this, it was just a freak thing that happened.” Finnegan said. “All I can control is my attitude, and right now I just want to get back with my team.
“Everything kind of goes away when I am on the field. Even now I am wanting to get back to work, I am tired of sitting around,” he added.
Finnegan’s attitude matches his prognosis. His type of lymphoma, when it stays localized, has an 82.3 percent five-year survival rate, and that rate is even higher among otherwise healthy young people.
On Monday, two weeks after his biopsy, and only a few days out from his first chemotherapy treatment, Finnegan received word from his doctors that he could resume team activities with the goal of suiting up for the Wolves in their home opener Sept. 21 against Dixie State, but there is no word on when he will play next for sure.
“For me, football is the one thing I do that allows me to clear my head,” Finnegan said. “I can’t wait to get back to practice and be with the team.”