Mascenic-Conant basketball tripleheader raising funds for Isaac Phillips

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 01-04-2024 11:22 AM

Modified: 01-04-2024 3:44 PM


Thirteen-year-old Isaac Phillips of New Ipswich is battling a rare form of childhood cancer called synovial sarcoma that has him hospitalized at Mass General following a series of surgeries.

This month, the Mascenic community is running a "Go Gold" fundraiser culminating in a basketball tripleheader between Mascenic and Conant on Jan. 10. 

"Isaac is a young kid in our community," said Mascenic Athletic Booster Club board member Carolyn Cormier, one of the event organizers. "He's an athlete who plays baseball and basketball. To know him is to love him - the kid is hysterical, he's just the sweetest kid."

Isaac was first diagnosed in 2021 after developing a limp during baseball season. Testing revealed he had a large tumor wrapping around his spine, and eventually, doctors agreed he had synovial sarcoma, which his mother Debbie called a "one-in-a-million" cancer.

Isaac underwent several surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy before receiving an all-clear in March 2023; the family celebrated with a cake that read "Good job not dying!" But due to the tumor's proximity to Isaac's spine, there were elements that were impossible to safely remove, and by July, the cancer was back.

"We knew there was some left in there that they couldn't get out without damaging the nerves, but it was still kind of a shock,” Debbie said.

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"I just thought 'Here we go again,'" added Isaac's father Chris. 

Faced with a difficult decision, Isaac's parents selected a surgical option that involved removing parts of his pelvis, vertebrae and fibula -- a surgery that would set Isaac's physical recovery back but potentially give him a better chance long-term. 

"We essentially decided to disable our child in the hope of giving him more time," Debbie said.

Isaac was able to return to school at the beginning of the year and attended through October; now, he has to connect with his classmates through Snapchat or games of Fortnite from his Boston hospital room.

"One of the things he had asked me when he was rediagnosed was 'Am I able to go back to school?'" Chris said. "He had a couple weeks, which was good for him, but that's something that weighs heavily in his mind, to get back home."

The family spent Christmas visiting Isaac in the hospital, with half his presents still back at home. It wasn't a storybook holiday, but that's the reality the Phillips family has been living with. 

"This is just our normal now," Debbie said. "There are times when I'm driving down the driveway and it just hits - this isn't what most people are doing, driving their kid to the hospital."

On top of all that, Debbie and Chris still have plenty of responsibilities at home with their other children, Chuck and Pippa. 

"That's the one thing that you do learn," Chris said. "You can't live a normal life while dealing with a kid that has go through chemo and radiation while you have other kids involved in sports and in school."

With all that in mind, Cormier and the booster club rallied the Mascenic and Jaffrey-Rindge communities for a monthlong fundraiser that started in mid-December.

"This is one of the most amazing parts about living in a small-town community," Cormier said. "Our lives overlap so much. Lots of people know them; they're involved in local sports. This is a really cool opportunity for us to show them that we love them and at the same time raise some money to offset the costs of Isaac's medical treatment."

Community members have shown their support for the Go Gold fundraiser in many ways, from simply raising awareness by changing their social media profile pictures to a gold image honoring Isaac to a variety of flash raffles, auction items or donation opportunities which are announced on the Athletic Boosters Facebook page. 

"What we'd like to do is to blow them away from the level of support," Cormier said. 

The culminating event will be a basketball rivalry tripleheader on Jan. 10 at Mascenic featuring the Vikings hosting Conant for their annual clash in New Ipswich. Doors open at 3:30, with JV boys at 4 p.m., girls' varsity at 5:30 and boys' varsity -- featuring Isaac's brother Chuck -- at 7.

"We chose the Conant night so that all the local communities could get involved," Cormier said. "It gives a way for people outside of New Ipswich to show their support as well."

Aside from the on-court action, the evening should be a family event, with food, raffles, door prizes and the like. An anonymous local company has offered to match all the money raised through the fundraiser. 

"It's a little overwhelming," Debbie said. "We're not big on asking for help, so we're learning how to do that through this."

"The community has opened up their arms and hearts to us," Chris said. "It's huge. We can't thank people enough as to how much they've done for us - it's a debt that can't be repaid."