Last December, Mays Landing resident Conner Lai's lymph nodes started to swell. He went to a doctor, who diagnosed mononucleosis and put him on a course of antibiotics. But there was a problem: The swelling didn't go down.
At first his doctors attributed it to the residual effects of mono, said his mother, Shannon, but when a lymph node under his armpit swelled to the size of a baseball in two months, it was clear something was up.
On Sept. 12, Lai received a diagnosis of Hodgkins lymphoma. He has since undergone chemotherapy, which has left him fatigued and losing his hair.
Although it has so far been a tough battle, it hasn't been a lonely one. The community has rallied around Conner, showing him tremendous support in his time of need - something he said has been very heartening these past few weeks.
"It means a lot to me, it shows that I have a lot of good friends and family," the 14-year-old said. "It's giving me strength, knowing that lots of people are here to support me whenever."
On Oct. 28, friends of the Lai family will hold the "Curing Conner" softball tournament at Pitney Recreation Park in Absecon.
Shannon Lai, a 1994 graduate of Absegami High School in Galloway Township has been a military wife for 15 years, and has only been back in the area for a few years. Knowing she has a network of friends willing to help her has been comforting for Lai, whose husband is stationed in Puerto Rico.
"I'm very thankful to be back home and have all the support," Lai said. "I've been alone a lot the past few years because my husband is overseas, so I've got a family and friends here, it's wonderful."
Tristian Kuddar, 14, and his mother, Erica, have acted as crutches for the Lai family since Conner's diagnosis. As neighbors until the Kuddar family moved across town last year, Tristian and Conner have been inseparable since they first met.
Despite the difficult situation, when they're together, Tristian said, things are OK.
"Every time we hang out, we have this connection, we forget about everything, we go for walks," said Tristian, who will be an umpire at the tournament along with Conner. "I buy him things, I buy him ice cream and stuff, that's his favorite."
Erica said she sees Conner as a son, and Shannon, a sister, and is willing to pitch in to help however she's needed.
The support Conner has received and the spirit he displays make Kuddar certain he'll win his fight.
"They're a big part of my life, both of them, and I'm just glad to see a smile on Conner's face when I get to see him, and to know that he's the same boy that he was when I first met him, regardless of everything going on, and he's going to get through this," Kuddar said.
The event begins at 9 a.m., rain or shine, and will go as late as it has to. Teams must have a minimum of 10 players, two of them female. Participation requires a $20 donation per person and includes a free T-shirt.
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
Curing Conner Softball Fundraiser
9 a.m. Oct. 28
Pitney Recreation Park, Absecon
$20 for competitors. $100 for sponsors
Contact organizer Eric Allen at 609-289-0720 or email email@example.com.