Battling Cancer and States Away, Fargo Rallies Around One of its Own

At 25 years old, Kellen Summers was diagnosed with stage IV cancer; states away, his family and friends back home are doing what they can to lend a hand

A Fargo Native

FARGO, N.D. — Many say Fargo is a tight-knit community.

Kellen Summers and his wife, Vanessa, grew up in the Fargo area. They met through their love of theater at Fargo South High School, and their relationship remained strong through their graduation from Concordia College. They both established a deep connection to the F-M area, particularly in theater community.

“When people would ask, why would anyone live there because it’s cold and it floods every year,” said Vanessa.

In their time here, they saw firsthand what makes the people here so special.

“When people would ask, why would anyone live there, because it’s cold and it floods every year,” said Vanessa. “I would always point out what happens someone’s house is flooding. Everyone comes together and helps them out.”

Married in 2015, they moved to Omaha, Nebraska, so Vanessa could continue her education. They were beginning their lives together. Everything seemed to go according to plan until late last year.

Diagnosis

“I had felt a lump in my jaw about right here on the right side, and I didn’t think much of it,” said Kellen.

That lump didn’t go away. After seeing specialists, Kellen was told he likely had a bacterial infection. Worst case, lymphoma. After more testing, doctors finally had an answer.

“We went in that day and he told us that he has really bad news and it’s not lymphoma,” Vanessa remembered, “And we were like, that is the bad news. What do you mean?”

Kellen was diagnosed with stage IV cancer at the age of 25. It’s a rare form of salivary duct cancer which had already spread through his lymph nodes and sternum.

“Because it’s such a rare cancer, they don’t have a ton of options or a ton of studies on it,” said Vanessa.

The next few months were full of tears and the pain of coming to grips with the news, but with this came an influx of support from their friends and family all the way back in Fargo.

A Little Help From Back Home

“We were just blown away by the response that we got when we got the news and we shared it with people,” said Kellen. “From every corner, it seemed like people were doing anything they could to help.”

Three surgeries later, Kellen is doing better. He’s now begun chemo and radiation. He has insurance, but his ordeal cost him many days of work. Although he said he never wanted to ask for help, he set up a GoFundMe Page to ease the burden of the medical costs and day to day living.

His page has raised more than $12,000 so far, much of which has come from the Fargo community, but the help from his hometown ties doesn’t end there. The Improv Comedy Benefit at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor is just one of many fundraisers organized here in Fargo by Kellen’s local theater friends.

The entertainment for the night was up on stage, an homage to Kellen’s theatrical background. Organizers said they didn’t hesitate to help their friend in need.

“He was someone that we all looked up to as an older brother in a lot of ways. So there was just no hesitation from anybody here,” said Jake Hundley, Kellen’s friend.

The community connection they saw during past floods was the same one bringing people together at the event Saturday night. Only instead of protecting homes, they were protecting one of their own.

“It’s something I think that makes Fargo a really special place,” said Kellen. “The relationships you form with people… you know you have this connection that lasts over time and distance. You get the opportunity and it’s like no time has passed at all.”

Kellen has a long road ahead of him, but he has the comfort of knowing whatever the future holds, he’ll have the support of his Fargo family behind him.

How You Can Help

If you’d like to help Kellen and Vanessa, you can donate through their GoFundMe Page.

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