Richards Battles Two Types Of Cancer

Junior pitcher Colin Richards was diagnosed with two types of cancer in early January.
Junior pitcher Colin Richards was diagnosed with two types of cancer in early January.

Article reprinted courtesy of Fargo Forum and reporter Eric Peterson.

MOORHEAD---
In November, Colin Richards experienced extreme itching that started in his feet and gradually worked its way all over his body. His feet and legs were the worst areas. The itching became unbearable.

The Concordia baseball player would use silverware to try to relieve the pain. By December, he was having night sweats and only getting two or three hours of sleep.

"I would wake in the middle of the night and have bloody sheets from itching my skin so much while I was sleeping," said Richards, from Glenwood, Minn. "I'd use a knife to itch my legs because that's how bad it was. It was bad, it was quite bad."

In early January, there was more bad news. Richards found out he likely had cancer. The itching proved to be one of the first symptoms. In early February, that diagnosis was confirmed after multiple biopsies. Richards also learned he had two different forms of cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma in his bone marrow and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in his chest cavity and into his neck area.

"I had Stage 4 of two types of cancer," the 21-year-old Richards said.

"The tough part was to look back and say, when did this start? Did we miss this for a while?" said Terri Richards, Colin's mother. "We can't go back. … Now, it's really hard with this coronavirus."

While he wasn't going to be able to play this spring, Colin still looked forward to the Cobbers baseball season, which started Feb. 29 in Florida. A couple weeks after that start date, the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"I knew what it felt like to lose the season before anybody else did per se. Then I felt like I had to go through that a second time," Colin said. "I was looking forward to being able to watch them play as much as I was looking forward to the season myself. It was kind of like a second loss."

When the itching started, Colin thought it could be an allergic reaction to skincare products like soap, lotion or a laundry detergent. He tried using different soaps, lotions and detergents, along with antihistamines.

None of that worked.

"Looking back it was horrible, I don't know why I didn't go in earlier," Colin said.

'I WAS PRETTY SCHOCKED'

After he returned from a Montana ski trip with friends, Colin had a doctor's appointment Jan. 8 in Glenwood. By then, he said he was happy to get one good hour of sleep. His skin was so sensitive he could only wear sweatpants and really soft clothes.

Colin said he went into the checkup by himself and explained what had been going on the past couples months.

"He started feeling areas in the body and he got to my neck," Colin said. "He kind of like grabbed a hold of something and stopped." 

The doctor then brought Colin over to a mirror.

"He grabbed this thing in my neck, which I had never noticed before," Colin said. "He was like, 'You see this thing right here. You really shouldn't have that.'"

An x-ray showed a big mass in his chest. That's when the doctor told Colin he likely had some type of lymphoma. Colin was scheduled to head back to Concordia that day to start the semester, and figured the appointment would last a half hour or so.

It lasted hours.

"I was pretty shocked to say the least," Colin said.

The doctor told Colin to call his parents, Terri and Rob. Even though the doctor couldn't say with 100% certainty it was cancer before a biopsy, Terri knew it wasn't good.

"I just knew right away when they started doing those tests," said Terri, who went to nursing school and used to be a practicing nurse. "Obviously you're scared and you're upset and wondering why."

Abby Mitchell, Colin's girlfriend and a nurse for Sanford, was at work in Fargo on the day Colin went in for his checkup. Terri called Mitchell and told her Colin likely had lymphoma.

"I felt like everything had been pulled out from under my feet," said Mitchell, also from Glenwood and has been a nurse for nearly two years. "It seriously felt like my life was crashing down on me."

Colin had multiple biopsies in late January, and in February, he officially found out he had cancer. In March, the COVID-19 outbreak started to spread around the United States.

"It just seems the year of 2020 can't keep getting more strange," Colin said. "It's definitely surreal."

Colin has remained in Fargo for his chemotherapy treatments, which started Feb. 10 at Roger Maris Cancer Center. Colin said the support from his friends, family, baseball teammates and Glenwood community have helped. His CaringBridge site has around 30,000 visits. A GoFundMe page started on his behalf has raised more than $7,000.

Colin has been able to keep a positive outlook, despite the challenges.

"Being immunosuppressed in the midst of a pandemic is really just bad timing," he wrote in one of his CaringBridge posts in March, and later added in that same post. "At the end of the day, I'm a pretty lucky dude. I hope all of you are staying healthy!!"

Terri added: "He's strong and has a great attitude, so that makes it easier on us."

The bone marrow cancer is now in remission and "everything is doing well," he said.

"To be honest, I feel way better now than I did in January and February when I knew I had cancer but the treatments hadn't started," Colin said. "That was probably the low point. I feel so much better. I can actually wear normal clothes and can sleep at night."

'YOUR ONLY IS MY EVERYTHING' 

Before his cancer diagnosis and the COVID-19 pandemic ended the Cobbers baseball season, Colin was expected to be one of the team's top pitchers this spring. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-hander was projected to be a key starter with high potential.

"Of all the pitchers who have come through Concordia in the last many years, his upside is the highest. I can say that unequivocally," said Cobbers head baseball coach Chris Coste, a former Major League Baseball player. "He legitimately has a professional-level pitching arm."

Coste was stunned when Colin told him in January he likely had cancer.

"To hear that was a kick to the chest," Coste said. "At that point, baseball becomes secondary. … What he means to the team behind the scenes is even more valuable."

Colin said telling the coach and his teammates was one of the lower points for him.

"I was also admitting it to myself that the season was over," he said. "That was really hard."

Colin wanted to make the Florida trip with the team, even though he couldn't play, to be around the game and his teammates. He was unable to make the trip as he had chemotherapy treatments during that time.

"It was like telling a kid he's not getting any Christmas presents," Coste said.

Colin, however, stayed engaged, watching the online streams of the games.

"That was really nice just being able to watch them," Colin said. "It was kind of a sense of being normal again, everything like that."

That normalcy was taken away after the Cobbers returned from that trip, with their last game being played March 10. Soon after the season was canceled.

Colin said he's determined to return to the mound for the Cobbers next season. After he was diagnosed with cancer, one of the first questions he asked was when could he play again.

At one point, his weight dropped to around 160 pounds, but now he's back to 185.

In recent weeks, he's been able to play catch with his sister, Olivia, who is a sophomore in high school. His sister, Ella, is a freshman at North Dakota State.

"They love him so much," Terri said.

Terri is thankful for the support system around her son, including family, the Concordia baseball team and the Glenwood community. Colin said his girlfriend has been a "life changer" due to her nursing background.

"She's been amazing," Terri said.

While she hasn't dealt directly with COVID-19 patients at work, Mitchell has been extra cautious to keep herself safe and healthy, knowing she's going to be around Colin. As soon as she gets home, she doesn't touch anything until her scrubs are in the wash. Her shoes from the hospital, she doesn't bring into her place.

Mitchell said having Colin around has made her much more of an advocate for the "stay home, save lives" directive. When the COVID-19 outbreak started, she was frustrated with some who had the attitude the virus is "only" dangerous for certain groups like the elderly or immunocompromised.

"Your only is my everything," Mitchell said.