Team, school rally around coach’s cancer battle
The 2017 high school football campaign will conclude for the Marysville Monarchs tonight when they host Central Crossing on Senior Night.
While the season hasn’t been as successful on the field as the Monarchs would have liked, they have been a witness to a life-lesson in how to battle the type of adversity that makes a football game seem small in comparison.
The squad has been without the services of newly-appointed defensive coordinator Aaron Peitsmeyer all year. That’s because Peitsmeyer has been battling a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamelar cancer.
“It’s a sub-type of liver cancer that is very rare,” said Peitsmeyer during a telephone interview with the Journal-Tribune Thursday afternoon. “It is a slow-growing cancer that affects one in five million people.”
Peitsmeyer, who is also a computer technology-robotics instructor at Bunsold Middle School, first realized something was wrong this past summer while on a family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
“This just came out of nowhere,” he said. “I started having stomach pains that got progressively worse.
“Vacation time is when you want to relax and eat some good food. I couldn’t eat much and got physically ill.
“I eventually said ‘something’s wrong’ and I went to an urgent care.”
Peitsmeyer was eventually hospitalized for approximately 25 days in North Carolina as doctors there came up with their diagnosis.
Upon his return to Ohio, he entered aggressive treatments at The Ohio State University’s James Cancer Hospital.
He went through a “Tace” procedure, in which chemotherapy drugs were injected directly into his liver, where a 16-centimeter tumor had been discovered.
“It’s a clinical trial,” said Peitsmeyer. “They use chemo and another drug to boost my immune system.”
Another concern that cropped up is that the tumor has spread, in a smaller version, to the vicinity of his heart.
“That tumor is an attachment to the one in my liver,” said Peitsmeyer. “The doctors are watching it pretty closely.”
Peitsmeyer was scheduled to begin another round of treatments today at the James. His doctors hope if the tumor, which has shrunk by about three centimeters, can be reduced to approximately half its original size, surgery to remove it can be an option.
It could, Peitsmeyer said, take another couple rounds of treatment for that much shrinkage to occur.
Peitsmeyer, 33, said he has had some good days and some that have been pretty rough throughout his treatment.
“I’ve been able to get to about five football games this year and a few practices when I’ve felt up to it,” he said.
One of the games that Peitsmeyer was able to attend was the Monarchs’ 35-0 victory over Delaware Hayes during the second week of the season.
It was a night that was designated “Peits Night,” in which the school and community rallied around him.
T-shirts were made by Monarch Sports and sold to help raise money for the stricken coach.
“The idea originally came from Coach (Kevin) Brandfass,” said Nancy Seger, who is the treasurer of the Monarch Quarterback Club.
“He originally had 120 shirts made and they sold out (for $10 apiece) in about a day,” she said. “Coach Brandfass got worried after that and asked the Quarterback Club to take over the project.”
The Marysville schools eventually sold 1,400 shirts throughout the district and also within the Fairbanks and Hilliard Bradley schools.
The Bellefontaine district (from where Peitsmeyer is from) also sold T-shirts.
Seger said $5,600 was raised through the sales and the Quarterback Club donated another $500 to the cause.
The Corey Hoehn Foundation, named for a former Monarch athlete who died after battling cancer, also donated $500 for the cost of the shirts.
“That was a pretty special night,” remembered Peitsmeyer. “That tells you how special the people are in the Marysville school district. People I didn’t even know were supporting me.”
Although fighting the cancer has consumed much of his life for the past several months, the Marysville school district and football team have not been far from his mind.
“I’ve really developed friendships among the staff at Bunsold and it has been tough being away from them and the team,” he said. “I had been given new responsibilities (as defensive coordinator) by Coach (Brent) Johnson this year and was really looking forward to that.”
Peitsmeyer had built up a good deal of sick days to cover most of his absence from the classroom this year. He is also looking into filing for disability, if the need arises.
Right now, though, his main concern is fighting the disease.
“The doctors have made it clear that this cancer is treatable,” he said. “It’s so rare, though, that right now there is not necessarily a cure.”
Peitsmeyer is, however, undergoing treatment with two things in mind.
He would definitely like to return to the classroom and football field sometime in the future.
What is also foremost in his mind is the generous way in which the Marysville school and community have extended him its support.
“It’s overwhelming in a great way,” said Peitsmeyer. “Marysville is a great place and I love the people here.”
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