Volleyball is a game of instinct. When an opponent spikes the ball, the defense has less than a second to respond. When the community heard about 14-year-old Greg Von Rueden’s bone cancer diagnosis, its instinct was to help in a team-like way.Brothers, Jake, 16; Greg, 14; and Bobby, 18; are pictured together a few months before Greg was diagnosed with bone cancer. Jake and Bobby have worked hard to raise awareness for their brother through word of mouth and social media. (Photo submitted courtesy Anne Von Rueden Behl)

In June 2012, Greg, the youngest of Denny and Sharon Von Rueden’s three sons, went to the doctor with a pain in his leg. Thinking it was likely a simple athletic injury, the family was surprised to learn it was Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer not uncommon in teenage boys.

Throughout the year, Greg underwent cancer therapy and on March 19, 2013 was told he’d beaten it. Unfortunately, two weeks later, on Good Friday, an MRI revealed a mass above Greg’s knee and surgery was needed to remove it. Since his diagnosis, support from the community has poured in.

Anne Von Rueden Behl, Greg’s aunt and godmother, and a member of Holy Apostles Parish, New Berlin, started a page on gofundme.com to raise money to pay for medical expenses and to keep people informed about Greg’s progress. Her goal of $25,000 was reached within a few days; the site has raised more than $36,000 in less than a month.

“It’s heartwarming just to see the kind of support and you hope someday you can pay it forward to someone who needs it,” Behl said. “So many people have asked, ‘What can I do?’ They just want to do something.”

More information

For more information about Greg or to donate visit:
or www.caringbridge.org/visit/gregvonrueden

The Yellow Run4Greg will be
Sunday, May 5 at 5 p.m.
For more information visit
or contact Cari Lunde at carilunde@sbcglobal.net

The “Yellow For Greg Brewer Bash” will be held
Thursday, June 6.
For information and tickets,
visit http://tinyurl.com/cuvwadf

‘No one fights alone’

Throughout this ordeal, Behl said the family has remained positive with the help of faith and the people who support them.

“You get by and you always say ‘your faith, your family, your friends,’” Behl said. “You continue to pray for Greg, you pray for a cure for him and anyone who’s battling a disease like this.”

Before being diagnosed, Greg, a graduate of Holy Apostles School, New Berlin, was an avid volleyball player. He played for the Lightning, a club team in New Berlin.

“The volleyball community has been unbelievable,” Behl said.

At the 2013 Badger Regional Tournament in Milwaukee, yellow T-shirts that read “Yellow for Greg” and “No One Fights Alone” were sold along with bracelets. Sales from that tournament grossed more than $1,300.

Teammates take on the challenge

Andre Sydnor, Greg’s Lightning teammate and member of St. John Vianny Parish, Brookfield, said it was important to the team that they help.

“(Greg) was a big part of us when he played last year and the year before,” Sydnor said. “He’s such a great teammate and had a lot of energy on the court; it was just great to play with him.”

At the tournament, the team wore special yellow warm-up shirts for Greg. Sydnor said Badger Region sent out an email encouraging teams and spectators to wear yellow.

“Everyone in the gym was wearing yellow so it was really cool to see,” Sydnor said.

Behl said the team pitched in and got Greg an iPad.

“When you spend that much time in the hospital, every little thing that can give you a pick-me-up is a big deal,” Behl said. She added that Greg also received a volleyball signed by all the members of the U.S.A. men’s national volleyball team.

Life of party, but not center of attention

The attention Greg and the Von Rueden family has received is something they’ve reluctantly had to get used to.

“(Greg) doesn’t like to be the center of attention but he can be the life of the party,” Behl said. “He likes to be part of the group, making people laugh but not being that person who has to be in the center. But sometimes it just happens.”

Behl said the community response has surprised the family.Greg Von Rueden’s teammates on the West Allis Lightning volleyball club take turns shaving the head of coach Ryan Thompson. The players shaved their heads in solidarity with Greg. Player Andre Sydnor organized the event on April 28 at Nathan Hale High School, West Allis. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)

“It’s not something the family ever wanted; it’s not something the family ever anticipated,” Behl said.

Cari Lunde, a member of Holy Apostles Parish as is the Von Rueden family, is a “runner.” She’s participated in triathlons, the Chicago Marathon and twice in the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon.

This past October, days before the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, Lunde found out about Greg’s diagnosis. She said she ran the marathon for him.

“I had a T-shirt made up that said ‘I run for Greg,’” Lunde said. “I’m not the one doing the marathon, Greg is actually the one doing the marathon. A totally different type of marathon … it’s what got me through it.”

Lunde said she had just gotten over mononucleosis and two friends ran with her.

“They basically ran with me and they just kept reminding me why I was running this marathon,” Lunde said, holding back tears.

Yellow Run4Greg May 5

Lunde’s 14-year-old daughter is a friend of Greg’s and her son played baseball on the same team as Greg’s older brother, Jake.

After the race, Lunde organized the “Yellow Run4Greg,” a 5K taking place on May 5, to raise money for the Von Rueden family’s medical expenses.

“After he got diagnosed, I was feeling helpless and I just wanted to do something so I came up with the idea that I wanted to organize a run,” Lunde said.

Lunde started getting things ready for the run in early April and more than 750 people have signed up. The response has surprised Lunde.

“I’ve had a girl from Brookfield Central (High School), who was doing (chemotherapy) the same time Greg was, contact me saying she wanted to help,” Lunde said. “I’ve been contacted by six or seven local high schools all asking to volunteer.”

Through the event, Lunde said she wanted to show the family the community’s empathy for them.

“He’s not going through this alone; we’re all in this together,” Lunde said.

High school put on hold

Like most freshmen, Greg was nervous about starting at Marquette University High School last fall. The cancer diagnosis made it even more challenging. Despite the cancer he attended class for the first few days.

“I think for anyone going into your freshman year, especially when you’re diagnosed, that’s a difficult transition in and of itself,” Behl said. “But on top of it, now you’re sick. And you don’t want to be the one who’s obviously sick and putting yourself out there in front of people like that. His brothers are there so it helps some.”

Jeff Monday, Marquette principal, said he was impressed by Greg’s “inner drive” to get to school, but his health is more important.
“We, as a community, have come together to pray for Greg and his family and have really tried to remain in solidarity with his fight and will continue to do so,” Monday said. “It’s at a time like this that we really have to come to an understanding of the depth of our faith.”

Greg tried to keep pace with his cancer treatments and homework, sometimes attending school for a half day before going to Children’s Hospital. Ultimately it became too difficult to juggle both and Greg was forced to take the year off.

Monday said earlier in the year an optional liturgy was celebrated for Greg.

Brothers rally around Greg

“At this liturgy we had over 500 students who packed our chapel to pray for Greg and to be with Greg’s brothers and pray for the family,” Monday said.

Greg’s brothers, Bobby, 18, a senior, and Jake, 16, a sophomore, have been instrumental in raising awareness for their brother.

“It’s just about the most inspiring thing I’ve experienced in my years serving as principal,” Monday said. “To see these two young men who will stop at nothing to support their brother, to fight with their brother, to love their brother … their focus is to see that Greg knows that he’s not alone.”

Behl said Bobby and Jake have used social media to spread the word about Greg. On Twitter they’ve started their own handle @YellowForGreg and hashtags #YellowForGreg and #NoOneFightsAlone; on Facebook they also have a Yellow For Greg page.

“They have definitely grown up and stood up,” Behl said, the emotion evident in her face as she described how her nephews have responded. “They really try to do everything they can to support him, knowing what he’s going through. To see your own brother go through it, it’s tough.”

Bobby and Jake have also rallied their own Marquette teams for Greg.

“Bobby is on track and Jake was on volleyball as well and just to see their teams step up and they’re all wearing yellow — yellow headbands, yellow shirts and yellow socks. It’s pretty powerful,” Behl said. “Bobby, he was on football and he got up and thanked the Marquette High (students) at a pep rally and thanked them for their support.”

Parents’ attitude ‘amazing’

Monday said the Von Rueden boys’ response to this situation is a testament to how they were raised.

“Greg’s parents are just amazing and they, too, have shown outstanding love and maintaining a positive attitude,” Monday said.
During the school year, Marquette conducted a “Yellow for Greg” day and urged students to wear yellow. They’ve also sold “Yellow for Greg” T-shirts and bracelets to raise money for the family.

Monday said the students have their “faith lived out through action.”

While Greg was in Children’s Hospital, Monday visited him and brought him a Green Bay Packer DVD and some Marquette T-shirts to make Greg feel like he is part of the Marquette community.

DSHA joins the fight

Bobby and Jake spread the word to Divine Savior Holy Angels High School and the girls quickly mobilized to join the fight.

“Any time that a student is struggling in high school, our students feel really connected to that and want to reach out and support them in any way they can,” Kathleen Cullen, director of campus ministry for DSHA, said. “Their hearts hurt when they hear something like this.”

Soon DSHA was selling T-shirts, bracelets and ribbons to raise money for the family. They had their own “Yellow for Greg” day and on April 12, the day after Greg was in surgery, they, too, had a special liturgy for him.

“The DSHA and Marquette High (School) communities are pretty closely connected and we share a lot of the same families,” Cullen said.

Cullen said “more than half” of the girls walking the hallways of DSHA will have a yellow ribbon, bracelet or both for Greg. The school has raised more than $300 for the Von Rueden family.

“It’s been many members of the senior class that have taken the main initiative on getting the word out there, so it’s inspiring to see so many students wanting to reach out,” Cullen said. “Greg is a freshman. People are able to really connect with him.”

A local business, Burghardt Sporting Goods, has also come to Greg’s aid by providing T-shirts and selling tickets to a “Yellow For Greg Brewer Bash” on June 6. The tickets are $23 with a limited quantity of seats available.

Team shows solidarity

On April 28 at Nathan Hale High School, West Allis, Greg’s teammates gathered before practice for a special haircut. They wore their “Yellow for Greg” shirts and took turns getting their heads shaved to raise awareness for Greg.

Sydnor helped organize the event for a friend last year and thought the team should do it for Greg.

“I thought it would be a fun idea to do for Greg,” Sydnor said. “It’s hard; he played a big part and he’s such a great guy.”

Ryan Thompson, first year coach of the Lighting, hasn’t coached Greg, but sat in the folding “barber” chair on Sunday with a smock draped over him. Several of his players took turns shaving his head.

“The boys have really rallied around him, using it as inspiration for the season,” Thompson said. “He was there for Badger Region tournament … and luckily we were able to pull a championship for him.”

Thompson said although he hasn’t spent a lot of time with Greg, he’s proud of how his team has come together for him.

“It’s so inspirational to see such young boys are really able to take something like this and understand it, and really rally around one of their teammates and friends,” Thompson said. “When I was 15-years-old I wouldn’t have even fathomed it.”