Back in August, it was announced at the 2018 MLS All-Star Game that NYCFC-nominated Adrian Conoboy was the winner of the Wells Fargo MLS Community MVP Award and a $25,000 charitable donation to his nonprofit charity, We Can Kick It.
Adrian is here to share the story that lead up to that special moment in Atlanta, and where We Can Kick It goes from here…
In August 2016, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. I was walking along a street in Manhattan with my wife and I collapsed to the floor having a seizure, my first thought was that I was having a heart attack. I was taken to the hospital, they listened to my heart and it was fine. I was baffled as to what had happened; as it was such a hot August day I thought I was perhaps I was dehydrated.
In the ER they ran some tests including a scan of my head and that’s when they said, “We found a mass on your brain.” I was in complete denial. They showed me the scan and I had a golf ball size tumor on my left frontal lobe. Everything happened very fast as they wanted to act quickly, and three days later I went in for brain surgery. The surgery lasted 8 hours, I was very scared, as you can imagine, not something that you can ever prepare for.
My mum, dad, brother and sister flew over from the UK to be with me in hospital. The surgery went as well as possible and I had what they considered a good resection, however to get as much of the cancerous cells as possible there was some side effects. When I initially woke up after the surgery I couldn’t speak at all and had a lot of weakness in the right side of my body. I could understand everyone in the room, but I couldn’t get any words out, a very scary experience as you can imagine! I was so worried that my words would never come back.
While I was in the hospital recovering from surgery we discovered that I could sing. My tumor is in the left frontal lobe, the left side of your brain affects the right side of your body. The position of my tumor is where your speech patterns come from and where your ability to find your words is made. The lyrics from songs that you know off by heart from years ago are stored in a different part of your brain and in your memory. I’m obsessed with the band Oasis, I could sing Wonderwall perfectly, but I couldn’t say that I was in the hospital in New York City or what day of the week it was. The doctors said, “Keep him singing and the flow will come back. Your brain is finding new pathways.”
I’ve been doing speech therapy, cognitive therapy, and physical therapy since 2016. As the tumor weakened the right side of my body I was unable to move my external three fingers and an old ACL soccer injury in my right knee flared up. All my right side spatial awareness was messed up; I was walking into doorways and struggling to keep my balance. I’ve come a long way since then, teaching myself to juggle a soccer ball again was a challenge but with a lot of determination I got there!
I’m still coping with the side effects day to day. With brain cancer, you don’t really get into remission. They’re keeping a close eye on it with MRI scans every 8 weeks to make sure it doesn’t show signs of re growth or radiation necrosis, otherwise I might have to have another surgery down the road. I have aphasia, which is the struggle to find your words but I’ve masked it quite well through speech therapy. Last year, Liam Gallagher was playing in New York at the McKittrick Hotel and my wife reached out to his management and told them my story. He invited us backstage. I was on chemo at the time, but I’m not going to refuse a beer from Liam Gallagher. He was awesome, a real bucket-list moment.
The idea for We Can Kick It came about when I was going to the hospital everyday for treatment. For 60 days straight I went in for radiation and chemotherapy, every day at the hospital I was seeing these kids go in beside me, it was heartbreaking. I wanted to use my skills as a soccer coach to give back and help kids that I had seen fighting cancer. During my downtime on chemo when I was feeling well enough I started writing a business plan for We Can Kick It and from this the idea grew.
I collaborated with another charity called Kids Need More, delivering a soccer program to their camp, the response was amazing and it gave me the reassurance to know that the charity could work. The kids at the camp loved doing the soccer sessions and being coached by someone who understood some of the battles they face fighting cancer.
Cancer affects everyone in the family, not just the person with the diagnosis. We offer free soccer coaching for kids and young adults affected by cancer, the groups we coach range from ages 6-18 and are a combination of kids that have cancer and are in active treatment, survivors who are in remission and siblings of those who have had cancer.
We give them a space to be a kid through the power of soccer; it’s a break for them. They are never going to be judged in this environment. I think the families connect with our charity because I can share my journey with them and they can relate to me as well. We have kids that will come to our programs that have never played soccer before. There is nothing more rewarding than having a kid come to you at the end of the session and say, “I want to play soccer tomorrow” that’s what it’s all about. We Can Kick It is all about having fun, learning a new skill, and playing the beautiful game. It’s simple, but the most important thing is the kids have fun. We are using soccer to empower these children at a tough time in their life.
Winning the Community MVP Award and receiving that donation is vital. Before the World Cup, I’d started the 10-for-10 We Can Kick It Challenge to raise money. It was 10 juggles for $10 and you nominate 3 people like the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was fun while the World Cup was on and we raised a lot of money by doing that challenge, but this award will take us to the next level.
My plan is to get our sessions going on a month-to-month basis and then grow from there to reach more families. We needed these funds to help facilitate our programs, now we can buy more balls, shirts, and equipment, do more one-on-ones and visit more families. We want to reach more kids in the tri-state area and this award will help us do that. It’s a massive honor to have NYCFC and MLS Works recognize us. I’m just trying to grow We Can Kick It as much as possible and this donation can only help that.
We Can Kick It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the passion of soccer to inspire and empower children and their families affected by cancer.
We Can Kick It provides a fun and inspiring environment to play and learn the game of soccer for children and young adults, aged 6-18, affected by cancer.
If you or someone you know would like to become involved in We Can Kick it, contact Adrian Conoboy at firstname.lastname@example.org