A former Quad-City football player who had a tradition of using his strength to help others died of advanced cancer.

Fredrick Desmond, or "Des" Cunningham of Maywood, Illinois, died Nov. 2 after fighting a rare, stage 4 bile duct cancer.

Services include a private ceremony this weekend with a local memorial is set for 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18, at the Carriage Haus, 312 W. 3rd St., Davenport. He previously worked at Carriage Haus.

Cunningham was in his late 20s when he was diagnosed with cancer. He had moved to Rock Island to attend Augustana College and then he stayed in the Quad-Cities.

He made many friends over the years he lived here, and three years ago, those friends organized a benefit to help him with his medical expenses, and to provide emotional support to him.

Thousands of dollars in seed money had been collected even before the benefit was held on Nov. 8, 2014.

Before he got sick, Cunningham played football and ran track for the Augustana Vikings. He dedicated himself to being a role model to underprivileged children. To that end, he was after-school program manager at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Rock Island.

He also played defensive backfield for the Quad-City Wolfpack, a semi-pro football team. In addition he was employed by New Choices, Inc., Bettendorf, working with adults with intellectual disabilities.

He first fell ill in 2013, when he was playing for the Wolfpack. He had no appetite, and couldn't keep food down. When he couldn't be helped at University Hospitals, Iowa City, he was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. 

Bile duct cancer affects 8,000 Americans every year, but 70 percent of them are more than 70 years old, according to the American Cancer Society.

Even as he fought the cancer, he was kept on the Wolfpack roster and his name is still listed as part of the King Center staff.

In 2014, Cunningham tried hard to stay positive about his situation. "I look at it every day. I could choose to lay down, or to stand up," he said.

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