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.