As a mother, there are very few things in life that could be worse than watching your child suffer without any way to help, which is the reality for thousands of moms whose children have cancer. For some, the call will come that their child is cancer-free and the heartbreak will be lifted, if even temporarily.
That wasn't the case for Rebecca Burmeff. After her 8-year-old son, Lukas Kusters, finished his last chemotherapy treatment, the doctor called with devastating news: The cancer was back.
“I said, 'What does this mean? What do we do? What do we do next? What's your plan?'” she told ESPN. “And his response was, 'It means that he's likely not gonna survive this.'”
About one year earlier, Kusters was a regular kid with a special talent on the football field, which earned him the nickname “the Dutch Destroyer.” His coach, Ray Jones, explained to ESPN that Kusters was one of the biggest 8-year-olds he'd ever seen, and his label easily stuck.
In 2016, about six months after the season ended, he complained about stomach pains, which led to a diagnosis that revealed he had a tumor in his stomach lining.
“They told us from the very beginning that this was going to be the fight of his life,” Burmeff explained.
Days after his diagnosis, Carson Wentz became the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles — Kusters's team. The young fan's mom said throughout his year-long battle, Wentz was the topic of many of their conversations.
She added that the hope Wentz provided for her son's favorite team gave him inspiration for his own fight. After his cancer came back, a hospital worker made sure the fan knew that it wasn't just him rooting for the Eagles, but that the Eagles were rooting for him, as well.
The next day, he received a video message from the quarterback, who explained that he was “personally praying” for the young fan.
“When he saw what it was and when he saw that it was for him — he just got this smile, just the most beautiful smile on his face, just ear to ear,” Burmeff told WPVI in Philadelphia.
“[He just] smiled the whole way through it. And then at the end, I think it hit him, this is Carson Wentz — that took the time out of his day — to send this message to me. And he just — he just started to cry. He just started to cry,” she said.
When the Make-A-Wish Foundation came knocking, Kusters immediately knew what his wish was: to thank Wentz. “He didn't say, 'I want to meet Carson, I want to go here, I want to go there,'” his mom told ESPN. “'I want to thank Carson' is what he said.”
He spent a day hanging out with Wentz and defensive linebacker Jordan Hicks and before they parted, both players rubbed the boy's head for “good luck.” The quarterback reminded Kusters that he was praying for him and told WPVI that at that moment, he knew it was “something that I would never forget.”
“It was a day that started as I thought would be just a simple hang out with this kid, and it went way deeper than that,” he added.
As a thank you to the player, Kusters gave him one of his green rubber “Dutch Destroyer” bracelets. Two weeks later, days after his 10th birthday, his battle ended while he was at home with his family. In his final act of devotion to his team, the fan was buried in one of Wentz's jerseys.
That knowledge brought tears to the quarterback's eyes and he told ESPN it was a reminder that “it's so much deeper than football, is what it comes down to. It's so much more than just a game.”
On September 10, when the family sat down to watch their team for the first time without Kusters, Burmeff noticed something on the quarterback's wrist — the green Dutch Destroyer bracelet.
“I wear it in games. I never take it off. And I really never wear bracelets like this, but this one has definitely given me extra motivation — reminds me of that bigger-picture purpose,” Wentz told WPVI.
While her son will never achieve his dream of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, Burmeff told ESPN “he's awful close right now,” and explained to WPVI that being there with Wentz is “a little boy's dream.”
On Monday, the family reunited with Wentz and the entire team when they visited the field before kickoff. The Eagles went on to win the game and the quarterback made sure the family went home with the game ball, according to ESPN.
Philadelphia fans often get a bad rap for their overzealous love for their team. However, it seems the same gusto that drives their devotion to football can also be used as a force for good.
Since the story aired on Sunday, people have been clamoring to get their hands on a “Dutch Destroyer” bracelet, and by Monday afternoon, the family had sold $24,000 worth, which will go to various charities, including pediatric cancer.
While Burmeff is “overwhelmed” by the amount of support she's received, she told WPVI, “it's no surprise coming from Eagles fans.”
Watch below, via WPVI: