When the UNC women’s soccer team faced off against its rival Duke at home on Sept. 17, they were playing for more than just the cheering fans in the stands — they were playing for 11-year-old soccer player Kaleigh Britton.
In July, Kaleigh was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. She went on to have two brain surgeries before she and her mother, Kristin, briefly relocated to Philadelphia so Kaleigh could receive radiation treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Four months after Kaleigh’s diagnosis, she and her mother are now back home in Raleigh for Kaleigh to undergo chemotherapy at Duke University Hospital. She has now finished the first cycle of chemo. Through all of this hectic change in her life, there is one thing she mentions missing — soccer.
“I’ve missed my soccer team,” Kaleigh said. “I’ve especially missed the games.”
Kaleigh's favorite soccer player, NJ/NY Gotham FC midfielder Allie Long, played soccer at UNC before graduating in 2008 and pursuing a professional soccer career.
The UNC women’s soccer team became aware of Kaleigh’s story when someone told associate head coach Damon Nahas’ wife about Kaleigh and her passion for soccer. Nahas passed the information on to the team, and junior midfielder Aleigh Gambone organized a video shoutout from the Tar Heels to Kaleigh in the days leading up to the big Duke game.
Kaleigh is an NCFC Challenge soccer player. She and Kristin refer to the girls on the team and their families as being Kaleigh’s “soccer family.” Although she can’t currently play alongside her teammates, Kaleigh enjoys keeping up with the team and was able to visit her soccer family recently at one of their games.
“We’ve lost every game this season,” Kaleigh said. “We scored our first goal in the one I went to.”
Kaleigh’s soccer family is only one of many groups of people who have supported the Brittons during this difficult time.
“So many people in the community have been really supportive,” Kristin said. “We have really been so fortunate to be on the receiving end of so much outreach and support and love.”
The North Carolina women did a fundraiser throughout the month of September for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and were eager to support a fellow soccer player by making a video for Kaleigh. Along with the video shoutout, the UNC women’s soccer players displayed Kaleigh’s name or initials on the tape they wore on their wrists for the Duke game.
“It's always so great to use our platform to help others, especially the young girls who are aspiring to be like us,” Gambone said. “It’s such an easy thing to do, and of course it makes us feel good, but I hope it makes them feel great as well.”
Kaleigh appreciated the gesture and said that her soccer friends were impressed by the video shoutout she received from the North Carolina players.
“I thought it was so sweet that everyone came together so that they could make a video for me,” she said.
Until she can return to the soccer field alongside her teammates, Kaleigh will continue cheering on soccer teams from home, while the UNC women’s soccer team cheers her on as well.
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