How a Charlotte youngster used soccer to help battle rare cancer

Local soccer player Liam Flynn used his favorite sport as physical therapy during treatment for rare and aggressive cancer

CHARLOTTE—In March 2019, seven-year-old Liam Flynn stepped onto the field to play soccer with his local YMCA team.

For Liam, this was nothing out of the ordinary: the youngster from the Cotswold neighborhood has loved playing soccer since he was three years old.

But this was no ordinary match.

Just one month earlier, Liam was celebrating his “No Mo’ Chemo Day,” after 70 nights in hospital with stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare and aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s.

On the field that day, Liam returned to his passion; and the sport that had helped him bravely battle cancer.

“Liam returned to the soccer pitch to play a game before he returned to school,” says his father Shawn Flynn, a retired broadcaster and part-time soccer coach.. “All the parents on the sidelines clapped when he came on. It was a really special moment.”

“Since he was young, soccer is all he has wanted to do,” adds Shawn. “He hated missing playing when he was going through treatment. So, as soon as he could get back out on the pitch, he did.”

In October 2018, then-six-year-old Liam complained of sharp pains in his stomach. A week later, after multiple tests, the St. Gabriel Catholic School student was admitted to hospital, at which point he could not walk on his own.

Throughout his six-month treatment, Liam endured a total 71 doses of IV chemo, 12 blood transfusions, 21 scans and X-rays, 13 doses of lumbar chemo under general anesthesia, and two surgeries.

Thanks to expert care and the emotional support of his family, Liam’s grueling chemo treatment started to show signs of working. From that point, he had to do physical therapy to recover his strength.

“In hospital, while he was getting treatment, I had a soccer ball in there,” says Shawn, who now works with the nonprofit Holy Angels. “I would throw it to him and he would kick it back. Then, he started to do toe taps and little skill drills.

“He didn’t want to do traditional physical therapy—no kid really wants to do that—but when we introduced a soccer ball, he absolutely wanted to do that.”

As his recovery continued—and his family used the hashtag #LiamStrong to spread awareness of pediatric cancer—Liam received a visit from Charlotte Independence players Hugh Roberts and Andrew Gutman (the latter of whom now plays with the New York Red Bulls in MLS).

“The visit from the Independence players was great,” says Shawn. “They stayed on for over an hour to play Lego with Liam, it was an incredible gesture. That’s just the way soccer players are.”

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