Kaiden Schroeder probably never realized just how many lives he touched in his far-too-short 12 years on this Earth.
McPherson’s proud little warrior lost his courageous 8-year fight against cancer on Friday, the dreaded disease that affects nearly every family in some way or another.
Later that night, Kaiden received a hero’s welcome home as his body was being driven from Wichita to the funeral home and people lined the streets just to pay their respects to the young boy who had such an impact on not just our community, but throughout the state.
I was out and about on Saturday and it was amazing to see how many people had their “Kaiden Crusader” T-shirts on, honoring his memory. Kaiden touched thousands, many of whom didn’t even know him, but admired his battle. I can’t even imagine what his parents, Chris and Jenny, are going through, as well as other members of his family who have to be bursting with pride with the fight he displayed all these years.
Among those lives Kaiden touched was Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, who in 2014 arranged for him to participate in the Wildcats’ spring game as he ran for a touchdown to set off a wild celebration as the KSU players put him on their shoulders and paraded him around the field. He forever has made an impact on KSU football.
“His passing meant a great deal to so many of the Kansas State people and our players in particular,” Snyder said in a release. “You would never know that he was ill when we had him around the program. He handled himself so very well, but it's been a sad time. I’ve had calls from a number of players who have since graduated and gone on who want to try to build a group of people to go to the funeral and try to help his family out in some other ways. He was very meaningful to so many players in our program and coaches as well."
Former Kansas State All-American Ryan Mueller particularly took interest in Kaiden and recently visited him. Kaiden often was seen in his No. 44 Wildcat jersey, which was Mueller’s number.
“My heart is in a million pieces. I'm crushed,” Mueller wrote as a caption to a recent Instagram post of him and Schroeder. “My brother was a hero. Kaiden did more for me than I could ever do for him. The impact he had on people during his time on Earth was remarkable."
All Kaiden ever wanted to do was be a typical kid, playing sports and having fun with his family and friends. I’m sure there were times when he asked God, “Why me?” but more often than not he could be seen with his ever-present smile and positive attitude.
Kaiden was first diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in May of 2009. At the time, he was expected to undergo about 2 1/2 years of treatment, but he suffered through a couple of relapses. He received a bone marrow transplant with his sister Ashlyn the donor.
He was in remission several times, but the disease finally became too great.
Just a little over 2 weeks ago, Kaiden was McPherson High’s honorary captain for the Bullpups’ playoff game at McPherson Stadium against Andale. I don’t think people realize just how sick he was at the time and how courageous it was for him to be out on the field to cheer on his beloved Bullpups. The Bullpup team drew inspiration from Kaiden as it played a tremendous game, only to come up just short against the undefeated team.
I didn’t really know Kaiden, having talked to him only a couple of times. But I learned once that we shared the same birthday and I talked to him about it and he just smiled. I told him that he would forever be my “birthday brother” and that I would think of him every time I turned the calendar over for another year.
I think we can all learn from Kaiden’s life. I am as guilty as anyone of having a “woe-is-me” moment when things in my life are not going the way I would like. But my problems are insignificant when I consider everything Kaiden had to endure for most of his life. I will always admire his courage and attitude.
Kaiden’s passing makes me think of the movie “Brian’s Song,” the Brian Piccolo story. It’s a true-life movie about an NFL football player who passed away far too young after he wasn’t given much of a chance to make the team, only to become one of its best and most popular players.
George Halas, the old Chicago football coach at the time, said of Piccolo: “When they think of him, it’s not how he died that they remember, but how he lived. How he did live!”
Kaiden may no longer be with us in body, but his spirit certainly lives on. He was McPherson’s inspiration, bringing our community together as one. He will always touch our hearts, our souls and our minds.
So on March 2 when I reach another birthday, the first thing I will do when I get up is look to the sky and say, “Happy birthday, my birthday brother.” It’s something I plan to do until I come to join him and then we can celebrate together.