A decade old Christmas miracle

Armstrong senior Konnor Goettsche overcame a bout with Burkitt’s lymphoma when he was eight-years old. Next year, he’ll be a Division II college basketball player. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)
Armstrong senior Konnor Goettsche overcame a bout with Burkitt’s lymphoma when he was eight-years old. Next year, he’ll be a Division II college basketball player. (Photo by Nick Clark – Sun Newspapers)

When doctors first told Todd and Sandi Goettsche that their son Konnor had contracted Burkitt’s lymphoma, the couple was clueless.

The year was 2002, and Konnor, who was 8 years old at the time, had been feeling ill for several weeks.

The Goettsches would learn that Burkitt’s lymphoma is a disease that often affects children in the central region of Africa.

Wide-eyed, the Goettsches wondered aloud how a disease prevalent in Africa, but rare in the United States, could be affecting their son.

One day prior to the final diagnosis, the Goettsches were told that Konnor had either Burkitt’s lymphoma or pancreatic cancer.

“The doctors came in on Christmas day and said, ‘We have bad news and worse news. If the cancer is kidney and pancreatic cancer, he’s got two weeks, but if it is Burkitt’s lymphoma, he will most likely make it.’”

Thankfully, it was the latter, and a decade later, Konnor Goettsche has most certainly made it.

A hulking senior at Armstrong High School, Goettsche paces today through school with a grace of boy who truly believes he was touched by a high power.

There is a spring to his step, an air of thankfulness displayed in the exchanges made as he crossed one side of the building to another.

Sure, he’s the most vital player on the boys basketball team.

He’s a 6-foot-6, 205-pound forward with the versatility to play both inside and out, which is a combination of skills earned him a scholarship to play college basketball at the University of Minnesota-Crookston next fall.

But in this setting, other than the letter jacket displaying all of his accomplishments, or the tie he’s wearing as a game-day tradition, there is no sign of arrogance from the most decorated athlete in the building.

“Everyday, I just feel blessed with the opportunity I have gotten just to live,” said Konnor. “I don’t take anything for granted, because you just think about what could be, or what happens to other kids that die from cancer, and it is so real. That could have been me, so I cherish all the moments I have.”

Christmas at Children’s

All Konnor wanted to do the morning of Dec. 25, 2002 was play some hockey with his cousins.

For years, that was Christmas for the boys.

A late afternoon appointment at Methodist the day before changed that however, and by nightfall, he would be situated inside Children’s Hospital, preparing for exploratory surgery the next day that would determine how much time he had left.

“It was the longest night of my life,” said Todd Goettsche’s, Konnor’s father. “I don’t think either my wife or I slept at all. At that point, he could have two weeks left. I just prayed that wouldn’t be the case.”

Surgery Dec. 26 would show otherwise. The cancer had not taken over Konnor’s pancreas and kidneys, as doctors had feared. Instead it was Burkitt’s.

It was rare. But it was curable.

“That was all we wanted to hear,” said Sandi Goettsche. “We had faith that God was going to do what he promised, that he would heal him, so I held onto that word.”

The family would turn Children’s into home for the next month. Sandi never left. Todd only left to go to work. The couple’s other children – Ben and Kayleen – were forced to essentially take care of themselves.

“Ben was such a trooper,” said Sandi. “He just really stepped up as an older brother and was just real supportive. He was always there for him. Kayleen, it was really hard on her. She still had her life. She was only 12. But life for Todd and I pretty much stopped. All we wanted to do was see Konnor get better.”

Progressively, he would do just that. He stayed at Children’s for a month, and then was in and out as he underwent chemotherapy treatment through the spring.

By the end of April, he was cancer free.

Today, those words still bring a smile to his face, especially when he shares his story.

The family has returned to Children’s often over the last decade, sharing Konnor’s inspiring story, providing some proof that there is hope for the families experiencing what they went through a decade ago.

At the very least, the Goettsches feel they owe it to the nurses and doctors at Children’s, each of whom has left an impression they will never forget.

“It’s the best care in the world,” said Todd Goettsche.

Back on the court

From the moment he was told the cancer was in remission, all Konnor Goettsche wanted to do was play sports.

He had a video-game system with him at Children’s, and a indoor basketball hoop in his bedroom at home.

It wasn’t enough. Not even close.

“All I wanted to do was be a normal kid again,” Konnor said. “I wanted to go play as soon as I could.”

The time would come, and he would blossom into a three-sport star entering high school, where he would play varsity football, basketball and baseball for Armstrong.

His real love, however, was always what transpired on the hard court. Now in this, his senior season, the desire is to make it matter.

Armstrong was off to a 3-3 start through Dec. 20, with the highlights including a win over then No. 8 Wayzata, and a close loss at top-ranked Park Center.

There is a sense in basketball circles that Goettsche and his group of seniors could contend for a state tournament berth by season’s end.

As Konnor proved 10 years ago, you can’t count him out.

“There is no pressure on me,” he said. “I have college figured out, and with what I’ve been through, I’m just glad I get to play this game. You don’t know when your time is up, so you have to make the most out of every single day. That is all I’m trying to do.”