'Landon's Light' story on national stage as Bison face top-ranked Duke
WEST FARGO — Landon Solberg was 10 years old when he was diagnosed with Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare malignant brain tumor, on Jan. 23, 2018. The doctors told Travis and Andrea Solberg the life expectancy was one to two years.
Landon had a lot of questions. Andrea said nothing prepared her to have conversations with her first-born child about brain cancer, life and the possibility of his death.
"It's OK," Landon said to his parents. "God might just want me when I'm 11 and that's OK."
North Dakota State men's basketball head coach Dave Richman will be wearing a T-shirt underneath his suit jacket Friday night, as the Bison take on top seed Duke in the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. He's a neighbor of the Solbergs in West Fargo.
The T-shirt has "Landon's Light" on the front and "Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light" on the back.
As is the tradition of social media, some have poked fun at and questioned the professionalism of Richman's outfit without knowing the full story.
"Those shirts have told a story," Andrea said. "I know that wasn't the intention, but they have because of how widespread it has become and how Dave has used his platform. It's just a great story to tell, the fact that so many people are on Landon's side."
The Solbergs were in the intensive care unit of Sanford Children's Hospital in December of 2017. They had gone to the hospital because Landon was having severe headaches multiple times a week. They assumed it was migraines. Doctors found a tremendous amount of fluid on his brain and sent him to the ICU where he remained for 10 days.
The first thought was it was an infection or an autoimmune disorder, but those were proven to not be the case. Landon had brain surgery and a tube was put in his head to drain the fluid off his brain. Doctors warned Andrea and Travis, as possibilities began to go by the wayside, there was a chance Landon had brain cancer. They would be sent for a biopsy to confirm.
"We hit rock bottom at that point," Travis said. "We just hit an emotional low. It's overwhelming the thought of what you'll have to go through. You get the sense you're alone. We found out we weren't alone."
As Travis and Andrea sat in the ICU with Landon, Casey Glandt, who graduated in 1999 from Valley City High School with Travis and Andrea, wondered what he could do to help. Randy, Casey's wife, came up with the design that is on the front of the T-shirt Richman wears and Casey designed it. It originally started as a logo.
The other side of social media came to light, as Casey and Randy contacted anyone they could to change their Facebook profile pictures to the "Landon's Light" logo and tag Andrea and Travis in it.
Andrea and Travis got the message loud and clear.
"I get tearful just talking about it," Andrea said. "It was such an uplifting moment. We had this huge team behind us."
Eventually, people wanted T-shirts to help raise money for the family. The font on the logo looks like something from Harry Potter. That was on purpose, as Casey and Randy knew Landon was a big Harry Potter fan. The quote on the back is even a quote from a character from Harry Potter.
"It was tough hearing the news," Casey said. "Landon is the same age as our son. I couldn't imagine going through that. Seeing Richman on the national stage wearing the shirt is cool. The goal is hopefully to expose Landon's story, so we can have some answers for the boy."
Richman asked the family if he could wear the T-shirt for games. He wore it once last season in February and started wearing it for every game in the first week of January this season. He even joked with Andrea that a referee he doesn't necessarily agree with too often asked him about the shirt before a game. Richman told him the story and the ref donated to the Solberg's GoFundMe page the next day.
Landon is a big football and basketball fan. The NDSU football team gave him a tour of the locker room and former Bison head football coach Chris Klieman let Landon see his office with all the national championship trophies.
The football players sent him a video message before the Division I Football Championship Series title game. Former NDSU quarterback and current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has invited Landon to come to Philadelphia to throw out the first pitch of a charity baseball game that will feature many Eagles fans.
NDSU assistant men's basketball coach Kyan Brown sent out a mass text to people he knew in the college basketball world, telling Landon's story. Landon received T-shirts, signed posters, basketballs from Notre Dame, Baylor and almost all teams in the Summit League. Landon was also at the game between NDSU and rival South Dakota State when both the Bison and Jackrabbits wore the "Landon's Light" T-shirt during warmups.
"Sports can bring people together," Travis said. "The impact of social media is also incredible. When people see a good story, it can explode."
All of this is nice for the family, but what they want more than any national exposure or signed poster is to be accepted for a clinical trial. The tumor has spread to Landon's spine and has been changed from Grade III to Grade IV.
"It's really to hit the pause button, not to cure," Andrea said. "We know the tumor will become angry again at some time. We just finished a second round of radiation and we haven't found a clinical trial that will accept him yet. Wouldn't it be a miracle if just the right set of eyes see his story and gives him a chance."
Landon will not watch Friday night's Duke game with his family. He's been going down the block to watch the game in the basement of a friend's house. He's very superstitious and NDSU has won every game since the beginning of the Summit League tournament when Landon began watching games there.
Travis and Andrea will watch with Landon's 9-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother. After the game, they will go back to finding a clinical trial for Landon.
"Landon said he was going to treat this fight like a basketball game," Andrea said. "He's going to fight until the buzzer. My husband and I look at him with such admiration. He says he sees the way the Bison fight and it's amazing how it's compared to his fight. They started out rough and have come so far.
"We have to keep going," Andrea said. "He looks so great and his spirits are wonderful. You can't say this is it. He's got a lot of fight left in him."