Throughout her high school and college basketball career, St. Ambrose sophomore Charlotte Flynn has always welcomed the chance to participate in games that helped raise awareness for various forms of cancer.
She’s worn special jerseys. She has slipped into colorful socks. On occasion, she has joined teammates in putting on brightly-colored shoelaces and headbands to bring attention to a cause.
This Saturday when the Queen Bees host a cancer awareness game that has become an annual event during coach Krista Van Hauen’s eight seasons, it will hit home for the starting guard.
Mason Flynn, a St. Ambrose football player and the 20-year-old twin brother of Charlotte Flynn, was diagnosed in December with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and last week completed the first of the 12 rounds of chemotherapy he will undergo over the next six months.
“He’s my rock, my best friend,’’ Charlotte Flynn said. “To find out on Christmas Eve he was dealing with cancer, it was a total shock. He’s so young, so strong, has always been so healthy. Through it all he has remained so incredibly positive. If anyone can beat it, he will.’’
Mason Flynn saw varsity competition on special teams last fall for the St. Ambrose football team and was a lineup regular at the junior varsity level at the Bees’ “super-back’’ position on offense.
About a month after the football season ended, the Dubuque Wahlert graduate noticed a lump on his neck.
He was at first worried that it might be mononucleosis, something a friend was dealing with at the time, but when tests came back negative doctors took another look.
They returned with the diagnosis and he underwent surgery almost immediately, although Mason Flynn has had to step away from his academic work for the semester and deal with his health.
Because of his young age and the overall strength of his body, doctors believe he has a great opportunity to fully recover from the cancer following treatment.
Mason Flynn is currently living with his parents, Paul and Angie, in Dubuque and is undergoing treatment both there and at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
St. Ambrose football coach Mike Magistrelli describes him as “a mentally-tough grinder’’ who arrived in the Fighting Bees program as a linebacker who switched to the offensive side of the ball prior to his sophomore season to help the team.
“He’s a team-first guy who is willing to do whatever he needs to do to help our team,’’ Magistrelli said. “He’s never been afraid of contact and you can tell in his approach on a daily basis how much he loves the game.’’
Charlotte Flynn, the Queen Bees' fifth-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder, stays in regular contact with her brother, either on the phone or via text message on an almost daily basis.
Beyond his parents, his twin sister and an older set of twin siblings, a sister Chandler in Dubuque and a brother Max in Nashville, Tennessee, the teammates of both Mason and Charlotte Flynn and others within the St. Ambrose community are offering as much support as they can.
“The support here has been amazing, from my teammates and coaches to everyone on campus,’’ Charlotte Flynn said. “They’re giving us all strength to get through this.’’
Beyond basketball, Charlotte Flynn is active on the St. Ambrose campus, participating in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, dance marathon and student senate organizations.
The committee which organizes the St. Ambrose dance marathon in mid-March plans to dedicate one of its “push’’ hours to Mason Flynn.
Van Hauen said Saturday’s 1 p.m. Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference game against Calumet-St. Joseph had already been designated as the Queen Bees’ cancer awareness game when she learned of the situation the Flynn family was facing.
“We’ve been able to help raise awareness for several types of cancer over the years, and when we found out what Mason was going through, and what Charlotte and her family were dealing with, it seemed right to bring attention to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and help the Flynn family any way we can,’’ Van Hauen said.
“They’re not going through this alone. They have the prayers and support of Mason’s football family, Charlotte’s basketball family as well as other athletes and students and faculty on campus. We’re here for each other.’’
Magistrelli talked to his players about Mason Flynn’s fight during the first team meeting after the holiday break.
“Some of the guys have been up to see him, a lot of us have exchanged texts with Mason. His message to them has been to keep working, keep grinding and to make sure they appreciate the opportunity they have because none of us knows when it could be taken away,’’ Magistrelli said.
“It’s had an impact on our team. They’re his teammates, his friends, his roommates. We’re here to support him the best we can.’’
Van Hauen has encouraged Charlotte Flynn to take as much time away from the team as she needs to help her family.
She appreciates the support, which she said has drawn the coach and player closer, but she has also found basketball and being around teammates to be helpful.
“I can’t be there to be with Mason every day and he wants me to be here, too, having the best season I can for him,’’ Charlotte Flynn said. “He’s my motivation to be the best player I can be.’’
Van Hauen said the strength shown by Charlotte Flynn is motivating her entire team.
“We’re a family, here for each other,’’ Van Hauen said. “The support that Mason’s teammates have shown him and the support our players have given Charlotte and the support the family has seen from other teams at St. Ambrose puts it all in perspective.’’
Magistrelli sees the same.
“It’s brought everyone in our athletics department a little closer,’’ he said. “The women’s basketball team and coach Van Hauen have put a lot of work in putting Saturday’s awareness event together and it’s something our players have gotten behind.’’
Charlotte Flynn finds that web of support to be overwhelming at times.
“But, it also provides so much strength for everyone in my family,’’ she said. “It’s helping us all get through this, knowing that together things will all work out.’’