WKU freshman beating cancer with Titans player’s support

Kelsey Towns, a sophomore from Nashville, was diagnosed with cancer in July 2010. While receiving treatment at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, she met Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and the two became friends. Finnegan visited Towns in the hospital when she was receiving chemotherapy. Towns has been in remission for a little more than a year.

Anna Anderson

The summer of 2010 was Kelsey Towns’ last summer as a high school student. When her peers were gearing up for senior year at Father Ryan High School in Nashville, she was going through something different — cancer treatments.

Instead of planning for the future, Kelsey was fighting for it.

“It was kind of shocking because we hadn’t expected that at all,” Kelsey said.

In June of 2010, Kelsey, now an 18-year-old WKU freshman, found a lump on her right upper-thigh. After a doctor’s appointment and MRI at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Kelsey said she wasn’t worried.

The doctors had concluded that the lump was benign and arranged for surgery to remove it.

It wasn’t until a follow-up appointment that she received the news. The lump the doctors removed wasn’t benign. It was a synovial sarcoma.

Kelsey said fewer than one in a million people are diagnosed with this form of cancer, and not much is known about its behavior.

“I have no idea how I got it,” she said. “There wasn’t a real treatment plan.”

Within the first two weeks of August, Kelsey had her first chemotherapy session. She received seven chemo treatments and five radiation treatments in all.

Kelsey’s mother, Lea Ann Towns, said the first round of chemo was difficult.

“Each round you do, you get a little smarter,” Lea Ann said, talking about medicines and tactics used for recovery after the sessions.

Lea Ann said that medicine wasn’t the only thing that helped Kelsey recover.

Before her second round of treatment, Kelsey made an unlikely friend in Cortland Finnegan, a cornerback for the Tennessee Titans.

Finnegan and fellow Titan Ryan Mouton were visiting patients in the children’s oncology unit in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center when they met Kelsey.

After their initial meeting, Kelsey said that Finnegan kept returning to her room throughout the day to check on her.

“I thought that was the last time I was going to see him,” she said. That wasn’t the case.

Shortly after seeing her for the first time, Finnegan gave her season tickets to  Titans games for that year and established himself as her friend.

Finnegan is currently on vacation in Ireland and was unable to comment for this story. In March of 2011, he told the Diocese of Nashville how he was impressed by her strength.

“In football you think you learn so much about perseverance and hard work, but you don’t really grasp it until you see someone with a life-threatening situation,” Finnegan told the Tennessee Register, the diocese’s newspaper. “She’s a warrior.”

Kelsey Towns said a major factor of her recovery was being able to attend Titans games on Sundays.

“As soon as I got the tickets, I knew I wouldn’t miss a game,” she said.

On Jan. 6, 2011, doctors told the Towns family that Kelsey was cancer-free. She was able to go back to school, and she said her life returned mostly to normal, except for her friendship with Finnegan.

Now that she attends WKU, Kelsey said she can’t attend every Titans game, though she still talks to Finnegan once a week.

Kelsey celebrated a year of being in remission last month and is focusing on moving forward. Although she had to give up playing volleyball when she was diagnosed, she is currently a manager for the WKU volleyball team. She met Ashley Potts, a defensive specialist for the Lady Toppers, at the beginning of last semester.

Potts, a Louisville sophomore, attended last year’s game between the Titans and the Indianapolis Colts with Kelsey.

Potts and Kelsey met with Finnegan after the game.

“He’s like her big brother,” Potts said about their friendship.

Potts said Kelsey is open about her experiences with cancer and is committed to helping others who have to go through similar struggles.

Kelsey plans to pursue a degree in nursing and wants to specialize in pediatric oncology. She said she was inspired to do this by the nurses who cared for her during treatments.

“I just want to give back to what they gave me,” she said.