Players from rival towns and beyond are rallying for a Connecticut teen who finished his hockey season while unknowingly battling what was initially suspected to be the flu or tonsillitis, but eventually was discovered to be a softball-sized cancerous mass growing between his heart and lung. Charlie Capalbo, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, recently underwent his fourth chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic lymphoma T-cell cancer, The Connecticut Post reported.
“Back when we played Darien (on Feb. 6), I was 95 percent sure that I had the flu,” Capalbo told the CT Post.
A trip to the walk-in clinic seemed to confirm his suspicions, and he went on to play four more games in net before he returned to the clinic with worsening symptoms, according to the report. The second visit resulted in an acute tonsillitis diagnosis, but antibiotics weren’t providing any relief and he sought the opinion of his primary care physician. Capalbo’s mother, Jennifer, and his younger brother, Will, had been getting over the flu, so when the doctor suggested residual flu, they weren’t skeptical, the CT Post reported.
“Even though he wasn’t feeling well, I know he never used it as an excuse; he wanted to be on the ice and give his best effort,” Patrick Gore, Capalbo’s former youth hockey coach, told the CT Post. “He’s got that fighting mentality, that will-to-win mentality.
Capalbo’s mother told the news outlet she suspects her son was downplaying his symptoms so he could continue to represent his team on the ice. After losing in the state tournament, Capalbo returned to the initial physician’s office, and his father, Anthony, demanded blood work and a chest X-ray for his son, the CT Post reported.
The tests detected a large mass growing in Capalbo’s chest, and the next day he arrived at Yale-New Haven Hospital for a series of tests to determine whether the cancer had spread and to formulate a 32-month treatment plan, according to the report.
“The doctors are hoping that [the tumor] will eventually melt away,” Jennifer told the CT Post. “And because it was an aggressive, fast grower, doctors feel it will shrink fast, too.”
Calpabo has not returned to school since his March diagnosis, but is keeping up with classes at home in hopes that he can walk with his friends at graduation in June. His hockey team has postponed their annual banquet so that when doctors give him clearance to return to his everyday activities, he can celebrate with them. A GoFundMe page set up on behalf of the family has raised more than $169,000, and he’s received supportive messages from WWE’s John Cena and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The town has also set up T-shirt drives and fundraisers, with the boy’s lacrosse team looking to host a charity game in April.
“It’s unbelievable,” Anthony previously told the CT Post. “You can’t even put it into words. I can’t scroll down the list for more than a couple of minutes without choking up. I don’t know if it’s because of the names that I know or the names that I don’t know. It blows me away.”