Chemotherapy could sap Lansinger’s strength and steal his hair, but it couldn’t keep him away. After beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Lansinger wanted to make sure he’d be ready for baseball season.
“It just made me feel like I have more comfort,” Lansinger said, “like I could still go do the things I love.”
Less than a year after he was declared cancer-free, Lansinger is starting at third base as a freshman for Damascus and batting .524 with seven RBI and seven stolen bases through the team’s first six games.
He’s become a leader for the Swarmin’ Hornets, a 15-year-old whom the seniors look up to and an even more mature person off the field.
Last summer, Lansinger served as an ambassador for Kyle’s Kamp, a foundation that raises money for pediatric cancer research through baseball. Then, before Christmas, he organized a toy and hat drive at Damascus for patients at Children’s National Health System.
“You’re just like, wow. This kid’s special,” Blake said. “There’s something different about him than anyone else out there.”
Lansinger didn’t think much of the swollen lymph nodes on the left side of his neck in January 2013 until his mother, Chris, insisted he get them checked out. A few days later, Lansinger got the diagnosis.
“Really I was just kind of scared,” he said. “Initially I thought, was I going to die soon?”
Tom and Chris Lansinger didn’t know much about Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the immune system. All they knew at first was what the doctor told them: “If you have to get cancer, this is one of the kinds that you want to get.”
Hodgkin’s lymphoma caused nearly 1,200 deaths in the United States last year, according to the National Cancer Institute, but the five-year survival rate for Hodgkin’s patients is 85 percent. Many are cleared after three to six months of chemotherapy and go on to live long, healthy lives. Though that didn’t provide much comfort for the Lansingers at first.
“Your kid has cancer. It’s what you never want to hear,” Chris Lansinger said. “But you get through. And we were lucky. I think that’s how we really feel about it right now. We’re lucky he had Hodgkin’s.”
Lansinger had a biopsy on a Thursday, received his diagnosis on a Friday and had a chemotherapy port installed just below his right shoulder the following Tuesday. Within a week, he was undergoing treatment, usually three days per week for as long as eight hours each day.
Lansinger, then 14, always tried to sit in the same chair during his chemo sessions, right in front of a window at the Children’s National satellite facility in Rockville. He was superstitious about the way he felt in that chair, and he liked to watch the cars pass by on the road outside. He craved the movement that chemotherapy hindered.
“It was hard to go through,” Lansinger said, “but I always woke up in the morning or in the middle of the night and said, ‘You’re just one day closer to being cleared.’ I just kept that going through my mind and as time went by, it was becoming true.”
Lansinger has loved baseball for as long as he can remember. His grandmother said he was taking swings off a tee before he was 2 years old. So as he battled cancer, baseball became his motivation and his best distraction.
On the toughest days, when drugs pumped through his body from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and made his stomach grumble, Lansinger played baseball video games on his PlayStation 3. On the lighter days, he and his father made a deal. If Lansinger felt strong enough to hit in the batting cages or play catch after chemotherapy, his father would make it work.
“He might not have felt physically great, but we were lucky to be able to do that,” Tom Lansinger said. “It helped him feel like a kid instead of a cancer patient.”
Lansinger never formally met Gavin Rupp, a 13-year-old from Ashburn. But the opening ceremonies of the Kyle’s Kamp baseball tournament last May, which raised nearly $370,000 for pediatric cancer research last year, brought them together at Nationals Park, if only for a moment.
While Lansinger had been cancer-free for nearly a month at that point, the tumors on Rupp’s brain were getting worse. Rupp became an inspiration to the Washington Nationals community, spending an hour with his favorite player, Bryce Harper, and throwing out the first pitch before a game.
Lansinger followed Rupp’s story, and when he lost his fight with glioblastoma in July, Lansinger took the news hard. It could have been him.
“That’s why I’m wearing No. 15,” Lansinger said. “I didn’t know him, unfortunately, but every time I go out to pitch I always write his initials right behind the rubber.”
Lansinger hopes to return as an ambassador for Kyle’s Kamp this summer, but he wanted to find other ways to give back. So in December, he approached the administration at Damascus about the possibility of collecting toys and hats and delivering them to children and their families at Children’s National.
Lansinger left boxes at the school and frequently returned home with trash bags full of hats and toys, nearly 200 gifts in all. On Dec. 26, Lansinger and his mother filled the back of their minivan with boxes and drove to both Children’s National and the satellite facility in Rockville.
“This is our time to give back somehow,” Chris Lansinger said. “In a small, little way.”
They’ve already started collecting for next year.
Until then, Lansinger is making the most of his time on the field. In the fourth at-bat of his first varsity game against Blake, he mashed a home run over the right field fence. “Welcome to varsity,” Blake told Lansinger as the freshman rounded third base before breaking into a wide smile as he touched the plate.
The home run was nice, but it’s not the most important thing he’ll do this year.
“He’s more mature than any other freshman I’ve ever seen come through,” Blake said. “He’s just a different breed of ballplayer and person.”
For more information about Kyle’s Kamp — or to make a donation — visit www.kyleskamp.org .