CSB, SJU students join in 8-year-old’s fight against cancer

Categories: Around the Diocese

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Students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University and their friends from left, Nicholas Freeman, Felicia Mix, Morgan Kessler and Elisa Kelley, ​visited 8-year-old Griffin Dahmen, center, Dec. 6 at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Griffin Dahmen loves the color purple. Maybe its because it’s the color of the jerseys of one of his favorite teams: the Minnesota Vikings.

Thanks to a group of students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, Griffin and his entire family — his mom Jill, dad Kurt, a brother and three sisters — have matching purple shirts made especially to support him in his fight against cancer.

Morgan Kessler, a St. Ben’s sophomore, and Nicholas Freeman, a junior at St. John’s, got the idea to make the T-shirts for Griffin and his family after learning about him during their developmental psychology class taught by Benedictine Sister Angie McCormick. Sister Angie invited Benedictine Sister Lois Wedl to teach the class one day.

“As I always do, I began the class with prayer,” said Sister Lois. “I told the students about Griffin and right away they all were interested in hearing more about him.”

Griffin is an 8-year-old from Jordan, Minnesota, who was diagnosed in February with Ewing’s sarcoma, an aggressive rare form of bone cancer.

Sister Lois heard about him from Louise Geyer, who works in the financial aid office at St. Ben’s.

“She knows me well and knows that I often ask a whole network of people literally from around the world to pray for people who are ill,” Sister Lois said.

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Griffin and his mom, Jill, look at a T-shirt given to him by students at CSB/SJU.

After the class, the students decided to continue to pray for Griffin but Kessler, who is majoring in psychology with a minor in chemistry, said they wanted to do more than pray.

“In our class, we are learning how you can really show someone that you care for them and you are there for them,” she said. “Because he is an 8-year-old, we thought doing something for him that he can actually see and feel and touch would mean a lot to him.”

They came up with a design for a T-shirt, which they sold to Griffin’s supporters. Besides the rich purple color, the long-sleeved shirts have an outline of Minnesota on the front with three yellow stars marking the area near where the colleges and monastery are located, one for the hospital where Griffin is receiving treatment and the third star representing Jordan where he and his family live.

“He’s also been having a hard time finishing his chemo,” Freeman said, “so we incorporated a finish line on the front with the words, ‘Griffin’s Race to Beat Cancer.’ ”

On the back of the shirt, students from the class came up with jokes that they thought might make Griffin laugh — “What do you call a fake noodle? An IMPASTA!”

“We thought he’d like to smile and we wanted to bring some laughter into his life,” Freeman said.

One body in Christ

On Dec. 6, Kessler and Freeman visited Griffin at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis and presented him with the shirts, which were wrapped in a box.

Freeman, a biology major who plans to go into nursing, was surprised that Griffin wanted to wait until Christmas to open it. Griffin’s mother, Jill, convinced Griffin that it was OK to open the gift a little early and was touched that the students had come to visit her son.

“I instantly wanted to adopt all of them,” she said. “There was an instant connection — it felt like we had always known each other. I believe that is proof that, within the Body of Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. They made Griffin laugh and that felt so good to see.”

She was impressed by their compassion and their commitment to praying for Griffin.

“It touched my heart so deeply, finding out that these college-age kids were taking the time to inquire from Sister Lois about Griff and then be diligent in prayer,” she said. “It was such a beautiful thing and I feel privileged to get glimpses of it.”

Because the students had raised enough money to purchase the seven extra shirts for the family and donors were generous, they also had a little extra leftover, which they used to buy Griffin a Minnesota Vikings jersey and a Seattle Seahawks blanket, one of Griffin’s other favorite teams.

“Visiting him in person, this experience put things into reality for me, to see the impact this has had on their whole family,” Freeman said. “You hear about childhood cancer but you never really see it. Ever since I met Griffin, I can’t get him out of my head. I just keep thinking about what more we can do.”

Kessler agreed. “Before we met him, I would pray for him but after finally meeting him, it just broadens our prayers. I pray for his family now because it affects all of them,” she said.

When they returned to their class after the visit, they discussed their experience with the students and invited Sister Lois to hear about it, too.

“Sister Lois told us that Pope Francis made this the Year of Mercy,” Freeman said. “She told us that the definition of mercy is the ‘willingness to enter into the chaos of another.’ When she said that, it just really hit me. That definition was really relevant to the whole situation, what Griffin has gone through and the chaos that his family is experiencing.”

Kessler and Freeman hope that Griffin can come to St. Joseph to visit in the near future.

“Our hope is to get him up here so he can meet some of the people who have been praying for him,” Kessler said.

And Sister Lois plans to keep those prayers coming.

“To me, this is what Francis wants to happen during this Year of Mercy,” she said. “Showing their love, their care, for this family that is experiencing such chaos and pain in their lives is what mercy is all about.”