History of BLF

The Story Begins

At first glance Branden Lombardi was a normal, healthy, seventeen year-old senior at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona.  However, that all changed in December of 1998 when Branden, seeking the medical attention of an orthopedic surgeon for a knee injury he sustained due to sports, learned that he had bigger problems on his hands than torn cartilage. Branden learned that he had Osteogenic Sarcoma or Bone Cancer, just below his knee joint in the left tibia. Needless to say this was shocking news not only to Branden but also to his family and friends.

In late December 1998, Branden embarked on his Cancer journey, starting chemotherapy treatments at the East Valley Regional Cancer Center in Chandler, Arizona. After three months of treatment, he was ready to undergo surgery to remove the tumor. Under the care of the excellent medical team at the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale, the surgery long and tedious surgery was successful; and the tumor was completely removed.  In addition to the removal of the tumor Branden’s medical team completed an allograft of donor bone and a total knee replacement, to salvage Branden’s leg and give him the greatest opportunity for a normal life of physical activity.  After seventeen days in the hospital, including Spring Break of his senior year in high school, Branden began another three-month cycle of chemotherapy. While undergoing these last treatments, Branden still made it to his Senior Prom and more importantly was able to walk across the stage to receive his High School diploma. Branden enjoyed the summer of 1999, thinking he was cancer free, and was preparing to take the upcoming year off from school to recover his full strength and health before heading off to his college of choice, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Branden’s freedom from Cancer was short-lived as it was discovered in November of 1999 that Branden’s cancer had spread to his lungs.  Branden and his family were shaken at this latest news, but with confidence in his medical team and life goals yet to be met Branden plunged in to his newest fight with cancer.  He underwent surgery to remove the cancerous nodules from his lungs, at the Mayo Clinic and once again began chemotherapy treatments at the East Valley Regional Cancer Center. This time however, Branden decided that he was going to bring his Nintendo 64 to keep him entertained during the eight-hour treatments to which he was now being subjected. Branden would sit and play video games while the chemotherapy dripped in, and it allowed him to escape the reality that was his life, if just for a brief time while playing video games.

While sitting there playing his favorite sports games, Branden realized that the other patients around him had little to do, but would interact when Branden played his favorite game, “Jeopardy”. Although he knew these patients weren’t interested in playing themselves, seeing as how many of them were three or even four times his age, Branden knew that there had to be something he could do to help out his fellow Cancer Patients. An avid golfer since the age of ten, Branden had been working at Club West Golf Club in Phoenix, Arizona since he was fifteen years old. The management at the golf course had been very supportive of him during his treatments, allowing him to still play golf whenever he felt healthy enough, and allowing him to work a schedule that didn’t conflict with his treatment and was flexible enough to allow him to stay home on days he didn’t feel his best. Branden approached the management with an idea; he wanted to host a charity golf tournament to raise money for patient amenities at the East Valley Regional Cancer Center. He wanted to supply his fellow patients with items that would allow them to escape the reality of cancer treatment even if just for a few hours while they were a captive audience in the treatment room.

The management of the course said they would indeed help Branden out, and donated the course outright for him to use for his event. Branden, with his new found goal of raising money to buy items such as televisions, computers, cd players, cd’s, movies, tape players, books on tape, pillows, blankets, board games, and other items that would entertain patients and help them pass the tim,e began organizing the event all on his own, all the while still undergoing his own chemotherapy treatments. On June 25th, 2000, through tremendous local support Chip in to Fight Cancer 2000 raised an amazing $20,000.00.

Branden used this money just as he intended and in August of 2000, before finally leaving for a college closer to home, the University of Arizona, he went on a shopping spree of which most people would be jealous. The East Valley Regional Cancer Center was transformed into a place not only excellent for its medical treatment of patients with cancer, but a place that also made patients feel more comfortable while undergoing their treatments. Televisions with satellite hookups now allowed patients to watch anything they wanted on television, a far cry from the fifteen year old television that sat idle in the treatment room previously. The library of movies, CD’s, and books on tape was vast, serving its intended purpose of improving the quality of life for cancer patients and providing that brief respite from the realities of being treated for a terminal illness.  The doctors, staff, families and most importantly the patients of the East Valley Regional Cancer Center were grateful for the items, all made possible by one of their own.

A Foundation is Born

Branden headed to the University of Arizona with a successful charity golf tournament and cancer behind him, or so he thought. While doing the things most freshman in college are doing including rushing a fraternity, Branden still had to return to Phoenix for monthly tests to make sure his cancer had not returned to his lungs or leg. Unfortunately again, the cancer returned to Branden’s lungs, and under the advisement of his doctors, Branden left school early in December of 2000 to undergo surgery first on his left lung, followed a few weeks later by surgery on his right lung.

These surgeries made it impossible for Branden to return to the University of Arizona, and he was resigned to the fact that he would spend the next eight months at home recovering. However, people kept asking him if he was going to have another golf tournament seeing how successful the first event was. As Branden thought, he realized that there was more that he wanted to and could do to help cancer patients in their fight. With this idea in mind, Branden decided that he wanted to start his own non-profit organization, focusing on a mission of  improving the quality of life for cancer patients through similar projects and donations as the one he had initially made at the East Valley Regional Cancer Center.

The Branden Lombardi Foundation was born in early 2001, and while undergoing four surgeries on his lungs in six months, Branden and his newly formed Board of Directors decided that the Foundation would hold its first independent fundraiser, Chip In To Fight Cancer 2001 on June 15th, 2001. The tournament again was a great success, as it raised $30,000.00 for the Foundation. Branden was once again preparing to head to the University of Arizona in the fall of 2001, thinking he had finally seen the last of his cancer. But, two weeks after the golf tournament, doctors again discovered cancerous nodules in his lungs. Following surgery to remove the newest lung nodules, it was decided that Branden would undergo more chemotherapy followed by a Stem Cell Transplant, all to take place at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Brighter Days Ahead

Needless to say, the actions of the Foundation were put on hold while Branden endured the toughest treatment he had faced yet. On October 25th, 2001, Branden successfully underwent his Stem Cell Transplant, and was able to leave the hospital the day before Thanksgiving and returned home to Phoenix on December 7th, 2001.  Branden was able to spend the holidays with his friends and family in Phoenix, Arizona, and in January received an emotional boost to his recovery from the harsh stem cell transplant treatment.  Nominated by his younger brother, other family and friends, Branden was chosen to participate in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Torch Relay. On January 13th 2002, in front of thousands of cheering friends, family, and well wishers, Branden carried the Olympic Torch through Phoenix, Arizona.

While carrying the torch, Branden met World Series Co-MVP and fellow torch bearer Curt Schilling then of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The two quickly struck up a conversation discussing Branden’s work with his Foundation. Curt, who is known for his work with ALS, and other charitable endeavors wanted to help Branden in any way he could, as he had faced cancer recently when  his wife Shonda was diagnosed with Skin Cancer.  Through this relationship, which started as an off chance meeting and has now evolved into a friendship, Branden and Curt developed “Rally Caps”, a program designed to provide cancer patients with Major League Baseball Caps to cover up their bald heads and protect them from the sun while they undergo treatments.  It allows patients to regain that sense of normalcy and self-confidence that cancer so often strips away.  The program lasted until the end of the 2003 season when Curt was traded to the Boston Red Sox.  Branden and Curt forged a special bond that lasts to this day.

Improving the Quality of Life for Cancer Patients Today

Finally healthy enough to again focus on the Foundation, Branden was determined to make The Branden Lombardi Foundation an important part of the cancer community. The Foundation completed its second project in the Spring of 2002 when it provided patient amenities to the pediatric and adult oncology inpatient and outpatient units at The University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona along with the Bone Marrow Transplant unit where Branden spent thirty-eight days the previous fall.  Since then The Branden Lombardi Foundation has continued to pursue its mission of “Improving the quality of life for cancer patients today”, raising more than $500,000, completing more than thirty unique projects with every major hospital and cancer center across the state of Arizona.

The Foundation has remained committed to the entire cancer community, completing projects at Cardon Children’s Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital, while at the same time working with the Sun Health System hospitals (now Banner Health) primarily known for serving the elderly population of Metropolitan Phoenix.  The Foundation has forged key partnerships with the American Cancer Society and Gee’s Wigs as it provides wigs free of charge to young women in need.  Working with the rehabilitation department and the simulation education facility at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital and the City of Hope Bone Marrow Transplant unit, The Branden Lombardi Foundation supported a unique study on the effects of playing the Nintendo Wii for exercise while undergoing a stem cell transplant.  The Foundation provides monthly support to Maricopa Medical Center, the only county hospital in Arizona’s largest county.  This support comes in the form of donations of nutritional items, that are critical to the overall health of the poor and indigent population served by Maricopa Medical Center and its oncology units.  Finally, in 2011 in partnership with The Wellness Community of Arizona, a long held dream of Branden’s was realized with the start of a new Young Adult Survivorship Program called “Whatever It Takes”.  “Whatever It Takes” is a social and educational program focused on patients and survivors aged 21-40 and has been a great success since its inception in March 2011.

The Branden Lombardi Foundation is proud of its history and impact on the cancer community in Arizona, and remains dedicated to its mission of “Improving the quality of life for cancer patients today”.

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