Youth soccer coach Kelsey Whitby has been battling brain cancer for the past six years.
Through that time she’s continued to coach for the Flathead Rapids, and crossed items off her bucket list like getting married and having a baby.
Unfortunately, she recently entered hospice care at home surrounded by family and loved ones, says Amy Olson, family friend and mom of one of the girls Whitby coached.
“Our hearts are heavy as only they could be,” Olson said. “Kelsey fostered a great love and passion for soccer that was contagious.”
After so many years of giving to others, Olson is seeking support from the community for Whitby, her husband Derrick and their son, Otto. Olson said recent hospitalizations and surgeries have left the Whitby family with mounting medical bills.
“The medical bills have been overwhelming and financially they’re maxed out,” she said.
Donations are being taken through a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/derrickandkelsey. Though the page lists that its goal has been met, donations are still being accepted for the family.
Whitby was home attending the Whitefish Winter Carnival in 2012 when a slip on the ice sent her to the emergency room. Doctors diagnosed her with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Whitby has continued to fight undergoing surgery to remove a tumor from her brain and chemotherapy. She has also lived life returning to the soccer pitch to coach, and traveling with her husband and son. She and her family for several years have participated in the Montana Dragon Boat Festival with their brain-themed team, Grey Matter.
Olson said even while Whitby was receiving chemotherapy she would carry injured players off the soccer field. She recalled how much Whitby was able to teach the 10 and 11-year-old girls she coached.
“She made soccer so much fun,” Olson said. “When they started they could barely kick the ball and then they began winning tournaments. She was always encouraging and supportive.”
Olson says she taught players to never give up by telling them to play “like a boss.”
Several of Whitby’s former players last week showed their support for her on the soccer pitch by wearing black headbands and face paint that said “Like a Boss!”
Olson’s daughter, who is now in high school, visited Whitby at home recently, and though she is almost immobile she still asked about soccer and gave her a high five.
Olson said Whitby remains an “inspiration and hero to so many of us.”
“Our hope is for Kelsey’s 1-and-a-half-year-old son, Otto, to know his mom’s legacy and run up and down the same soccer fields where his mom once coached,” she said.