Cookbook, sports keep student’s memory alive

By: Maria Allard | C&G Newspapers | Published February 5, 2013

 During the Sterling Heights High School football game in the fall of 2012, team captains Brian Khashola, far left, and Joshua Heins, center; and Brian Thomas’ family, dad Jim, second from left, mom Paula, second from right, and brother Scott gather around Brian’s jersey.

During the Sterling Heights High School football game in the fall of 2012, team captains Brian Khashola, far left, and Joshua Heins, center; and Brian Thomas’ family, dad Jim, second from left, mom Paula, second from right, and brother Scott gather around Brian’s jersey.

Photo provided

STERLING HEIGHTS — He proudly wore jersey No. 6 as a member of the Sterling Heights High School football team, played guitar, ran track and sported facial dimples you couldn’t miss.

Brian Thomas was an outgoing All-American kid who loved football, his family, his friends, school and his girlfriend.

“He was a beautiful boy,” his mother Paula Thomas said.

In the fall of 2011, as friends settled into their first year in college, Brian passed away from a rare form of cancer, something he battled for nearly two years.

Since his passing, many activities have been held in an effort to raise money for cancer research and also keep the memory of Brian alive. Two such events were held at SHHS this past fall.

A Zumba class, organized with help from Paula’s neighbor Janel Mariani, and a football game against St. Clair Shores Lake Shore High School brought in monetary donations. The class and football game attracted staff, students and community members throughout Warren Consolidated Schools and beyond who purchased tickets, T-shirts and more.

“Some of the guys who played sports and grew up with him came to the game,” said parent volunteer Lynette Hyde, whose son knew Brian.

During the football game, loved ones who are currently fighting, have survived, or lost their battle with all types of cancer were honored by having their names on the back of the players’ jerseys, or on the backs of the marching band’s hooded sweatshirts.

In the end, a total of $9,500 was donated to Malia Cord’s Foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric spinal cord gliomas by promoting medical research and increasing public awareness.

Fundraising for cancer patients will continue with a new cookbook, “Recipes and Remembrances Cooking For A Cure.” Paula put it together with help from her sister-in-law Kris Schulz. The book includes 680 recipes, some from people who beat cancer and also some passed on from cancer patients who lost their battle. The book is $25.

Hyde, who has read the excerpts from the cookbook, has tried a few recipes already and her daughter has checked out the book, as well.

Star athlete
Brian joined his first football league at age 7 in Sterling Heights. He played football while attending Willow Woods Elementary School, Carlton Middle School and then at SHHS. He generally played quarterback.

As a kid, Brian always looked up to his older brother, Scott. With a 6-year age difference, Thomas said, “My oldest son had a lot of influence on him. They were always very close.” Dad Jim rounded out the family.

In January 2010, Brian — who had been diagnosed with a spinal tumor known as oligodendro glioma near the base of his brainstem — underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his spinal cord. The high school junior remained in the hospital one month and then spent another month undergoing rehabilitation. Brian also started chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

In July of that year, he underwent another surgery. The disease and surgeries sidelined him from the football field that fall.

“He couldn’t be on the team but he was still the captain. At the first game, he cried his eyes out. Coach (Brent) Widdows put his arms around Brian and just held him,” Paula said. “The tumor was just below the brain stem. He had to learn to walk all over again.”

Family and friends, including Brian’s girlfriend Laura Douglas, were always there for support.

“Laura won homecoming queen; he won king,” Paula said. “They had that cheerleader and quarterback thing going on.”

Brian never lost his faith as he fought cancer. He even had college plans. He initially thought about being a personal trainer and wanted to attend Central Michigan University. When health problems set in, Brian then began thinking of majoring in accounting.

On a family cruise in the spring of 2011, which included extended family and Douglas, Brian complained of neck and shoulder pain.

“By the time he came home, he was uncomfortable,” Paula said. “The tumor had returned.”

By this time, Brian was paralyzed from the neck down and confined to a hospital bed. Since he wasn’t able to attend the school’s graduation ceremony, school Principal Robert Shaner and a few staff members presented Brian with his diploma at home.

Hyde said that Brian was Skyped into the graduation ceremony at Macomb Community College’s South Campus in Warren.

“The tumor was taking over,” Thomas said. “We sent his records all over the country to see if someone could help him.”

He underwent more chemotherapy and also came down with pneumonia. On Sept. 29, 2011, Brian passed away.

Paula still keeps in touch with Brian’s friends through Facebook and text messages. And it’s not uncommon for her to be greeted with plenty of hugs. Talking about her late son helps with the healing process. 

“The more involved I get with the cookbook we’re doing and the cancer games, I found that to be very therapeutic for me,” Paula said. “It helps me tremendously because of the parents, the neighbors, the students, themselves. I can’t begin to express how much help and support they give me.”

To order “Recipes and Remembrances Cooking For A Cure,” visit ments/daily.htm.