Awareness • Early Detection • Treatment • Research • Survivorship

Survivor at Every Ballpark: Minnesota Twins

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Minneapolis, MN. Lung cancer survivor-advocate Zac Gustafson and his family joined our co-founder, Chris Draft, at the WCCO studio before heading to Target Field to watch the Minnesota Twins take on the Detroit Tigers.

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A 9-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis is now battling another life-threatening disease , and his fight is gaining international attention.

Zac Gustafson was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when he was two after doctors discovered that his sister Ella had it. Now, the Renville 4th-grader has a form of lung cancer that’s usually found in adults.

The Gustafson house in Renville, Minnesota isn’t hard to find. There are four kids, a tree house that gets plenty of attention, a garden that has plenty of vegetables, and of course, plenty of sports talk.

“Baseball is a big thing in this house. It’s huge,” Zac’s mom Sue Gustafson said.

So much so that Zac, a Brian Dozier fan, already knows what he wants to be when he grows up.

“I want to be a baseball player and a fisherman,” he said.

For the first two years of Zac’s life, he was sick a lot. It wasn’t until his little sister Ella was born, and her newborn screening confirmed she had cystic fibrosis, that Zac’s parents realized he had it too.

“And it just breaks your heart when you realize that not just one of my children has a genetically terminal disease — I now have two children with this awful disease we know nothing about,” Sue said.

“They look like ordinary kids just living life and playing outdoors. But it’s on the inside that you can’t see,” Zac and Ella’s dad Jim Gustafson said.

“It’s hard to go through, and you have to do a lot of stuff,” Ella said.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease that affects mucus, along with a person’s lungs and digestive system. Both Zac and Ella have to take up to 20 pills a day, and they have to wear vibrating vests up to four times a day to keep their lungs clear. But for Zac, this is only half the battle.

“When the tests came back as cancer, it caught everyone by surprise,” Jim said.

This summer, doctors found a spot on Zac’s lungs. Tests showed it was a form of lung cancer.

“It was extremely hard to hear that ‘C’ word, and it took a lot of processing,” Sue said. “It was probably the one thing that has dropped me to my knees. Unbelievable.”

But Zac’s reaction was not what you would expect.

“That night that we told him all of this, he just smiled and said, ‘Well, that’s kind of a curveball,” Sue said.

Over the past few months, Zac has had two surgeries to try and stop the cancer from spreading. It’s been hard, especially for Ella who is used to having her big brother around to play sports with.

“Sad, and kind of hard for me because he plays volleyball with me outside all the time,” she said.

But even as Zac battles not one, but two life-threatening diseases, the smile has never left his face. Life threw him a curveball, but it turns out Zac’s a pretty good hitter.

“He’s my hero. He’s a superstar,” Jim said. “He takes all this in stride. He takes it a lot better than I would if I was in his shoes.”

“The Lord always provides,” Sue said. “We are yet to be living in a cardboard box. We have yet to go without a meal. Something always shows up exactly when we need it.”

Doctors say Zac’s case is incredibly rare, and they don’t believe his cancer is related to his cystic fibrosis. Experts around the world are studying his case.

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In 2012, we, Team Draft, launched our inaugural Survivor at Every Stadium initiative on CNN during a nationally-televised prime time special focusing on lung cancer and our National Campaign to Change the Face of Lung Cancer.

Our Survivor at Every Ball Park initiative, leverages our connections with the MLB, its teams and players and our relationships with many of the top cancer centers in the country. As part of our National Campaign, this celebration of survivorship raises lung cancer awareness, gives hope to those battling the disease, and shines a light on the important work being done at cancer research and treatment centers around the country.

Team Draft’s goals are to create a unique experience for participating survivors and to raise awareness on a local, national, and international level by using each game and each survivor’s story to weave a broader narrative about the state of cancer and the hope that now exists for those battling the disease.

Special thanks to the Minnesota Twins, WCCO, John D. Lauritsen, and our Team Draft supporters for helping make this experience possible.

Donate now to Support the National Campaign to Change the Face of Lung Cancer!