Gateway: Sports

Family’s cancer battle eased with support, love from Gig Harbor community

In January of 2013, Kainani Lopes lost her husband, Lloyd, to brain cancer, leaving her to raise her four children — Rylen (10), Leland (9), Masen (6) and Azlyn (5) — by herself.

“Raising three boys (is tough); (I’m) just trying to get used to being a single parent,” Lopes said. “I’m trying to divide and conquer different activities ... trying to figure out how to get there on time and where to go.”

And then things got even harder for Lopes. In August of 2013, Masen was diagnosed with Anaplastic astocytoma, a type of brain cancer.

“They initially told me it wasn’t hereditary,” Lopes said. “Just having to do it all over again kind of sucked.”

Masen’s prognosis doesn’t look good, but people wouldn’t know just by looking at him. Masen is lively, full of energy and loves playing baseball. For his Gig Harbor Little League team, he plays first base, second, third, outfield and pitcher.

“I like hitting the balls,” Masen said.

Watching her son play baseball, Lopes sometimes forgets about his medical situation — if only for a brief moment.

“You’d never know he had brain cancer with the way he acts,” Lopes said.

Gig Harbor Little League is doing everything it can, too. The organization recently held a fundraiser for the family to help with medical expenses. Chris Coalson, a friend of the Lopes family and board member for Gig Harbor Little League, said his 12-year-old son Chase originally approached him with an idea to have a “Masen Night.”

Coalson was on board immediately.

“(Chase and Masen) kind of have a big brother, little brother thing,” Coalson said. “He caught the first pitch for Masen; Masen thought it was so cool. He gave everyone high-fives after.”

Masen was supposed to be a ball boy for the game, but was recovering from surgery. So he got to announce the batters’ names coming to the plate over the loudspeaker during a little league this season.

Coalson said the community has stepped up, and there are too many names to mention, but pointed to GHLL manager Justin Skogen, a good friend of the family and a significant volunteer. All involved hope the community’s support has made life in the Lopes household a little easier.

“Going through all of this all over again, I just couldn’t imagine,” Coalson said. “I don’t think any of us could imagine.”

Lopes, who moved here with her family in June of 2012 from Oahu, Hawaii, has been overwhelmed by the community’s support and love.

“It just shows me how great of a community this is,” Lopes said. “Everybody says blood is thicker than water. It takes a village to raise a family. They’ve proven it above anything we could expect.”

Masen received another honor last Sunday, getting to throw out the first pitch at the Tacoma Rainiers game. Before he delivered the pitch, he did his signature “look,” a stare-down to the catcher. The crowd ate it up.

“Everyone started cheering louder when he did his look,” Lopes said.

Masen got to meet some of the players, and of course, Rhubarb, as well as watching batting practice. Outfielder James Jones signed a baseball and gave Masen a bat, cleats, gloves and glasses.