The Wichita Thunder has launched the "Fight for #15" campaign in an effort to raise money to help with former player and coach Rob Weingartner's medical expenses. The special effort happens to fall during colorectal cancer awareness month, prompting other survivors to also speak out about early detection.
"A year a go at this time, I was throwing fits on the ice and yelling at referees," Weingartner says. "So it's a life change for sure."
Weingartner was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. It's a fight different than the one he is used to. This one caught him off the ice at just 37 years-old.
"That's something that happens to somebody that's a bit older," said Weingartner.
After his January diagnosis, Weingartner underwent colon resection surgery and began chemotherapy. It wasn't long before his old ice buddies came thundering to his side.
"His cancer has touched everyone in our organization," said Thunder GM Joel Lomurno.
The Thunder held a telethon to sell ticket packages for Friday's game against Tulsa. The team sold nearly $6,000 in one day. They've also come up with "Fight for #15" bracelets, hockey pucks and mugs with proceeds going towards Weingartner's medical expenses.
"Rob's case is special, not only because he played here a number of years but he's family to all generations of Thunder fans," said Lomurno.
"I used to play hockey with Weingartner," says Nick Fielden. "I know he's battling this." Fielden bought a "Weingartner" puck at Wednesday night's Thunder game.
News of Weingartner's battle comes during a key time for colon cancer survivors and health officials. March is colon cancer awareness month.
Jacque Smith, who works as a cancer outreach coordinator for Via Christi, and Mike Sheets who volunteers at Via Christi, are both survivors. They want others to take advantage of screening options.
"It's so worth it just to get it caught early," Smith says. "That's just the main push, to get it caught and prevention."
Smith had to have her stomach and parts of her colon removed at just 17-years-old.
"I was fortunate and I feel like I am here for a reason and I take it as almost a sacred duty to spread the word," said Sheets, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 54.
Weingartner said he appreciates the support of the community and joins other survivors in urging the community to get screened.
"It's a very preventable disease," said Weingartner.
Weingartner is expected to be at Friday's game. An after-party is planned for Friday after the Thunder game. It will take place at Weingartner's bar, 'The Penalty Box' at 7006 West Macarthur Rd. Fans are encouraged to stop by.
If you'd like more information about "the Fight for #15" and Friday's game, click on the Wichita Thunder link below, or call them at 264-GOAL (4625).
For more on colon cancer as well as where and how you can get screened right here in Wichita, click on the American Cancer Society link below.
Via Christi is is offering free colon cancer screening kits through March 31st. Your tests must be completed and mailed by April 15th for processing.
Those can be picked up at the following Walgreens locations:
3333 E. Central
333 West 13th
710 N. West Street
1551 S. Broadway
5505 E. Harry
Limited tests available at:
Hunter Health Clinic 2318 E. Central
Colvin Neighborhood City Hall 2820 S. Roosevelt