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Addie’s army: Platte rallies behind teen with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

In mid-September, 13-year-old Addie Walstad was diagnosed with cancer. Following her diagnosis, the community of Platte rallied behind the eighth-grader and her family to show its support.

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13-year-old Addie Walstad and her mom Erin pose for a photo wearing the "Be Strong and Courageous" t-shirts that were made and sold to help support Addie and her family following a cancer diagnosis back in September. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

PLATTE — Growing up in Platte, helping each other out is what you do.

Now, after helping their neighbors for so long, the Walstad family is on the receiving end of the “amazing” generosity of their neighbors and community.

In September, the Walstad’s 13-year-old daughter, Addie, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Since then, the support of the people and community in Platte have been overwhelming, according to Addie’s mom, Erin.

“They have rallied around her from the very beginning,” Erin Walstad said.

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“There really aren't even words to say what it really means to us. This is a hard thing to deal with in your life and to have your child go through. But having your whole community support you every step of the way, we wouldn't be where we're at right now. Especially on those hard days. They're helping us get through.”

Addie is the second of five children in the Walstad family. She has an older sister Kallie, 16; and three younger siblings: Will, 10; Bria, 7; and Bella, 2.

Being a modest family, the Walstads didn’t seek out the help of their neighbors. But they didn’t have to.

“When one of ours is in need, then people step up,” said Karen Lang, a friend and Platte resident who helps out the family as much as she can.

“It was a hard thing at first, being on the receiving end of needing help. Generally, that means something is wrong, that people are wanting to help,” Erin Walstad said. “But it's amazing, too, that we didn't have to.

“My husband and I came from families who took pride in this community. We are a community of helping other people. We were kind of raised that way and we, ourselves, like to do that: Help give back to the community. We feel like this community really stands out in that way. We love that — small-town helping other people.”

Named co-captain

Platte-Geddes football coach Bruce Hanson enjoys winning but says there are aspects of life bigger than the game. That is something the Black Panthers embraced with Addie.

Ahead of the 2021 season, the football team ordered new black uniforms but they didn’t arrive until midway through the season. Originally, the plan was for the team to wear the black uniforms as a one-off occasion.

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But then the timing of the uniforms and Addie’s diagnosis aligned, that the team wanted to use them as way to show support for Addie.

Ahead of the Black Panthers' game against Bon Homme on Oct. 1, school members and the team combined for a night in Addie’s honor that featured a theme "Black Out for Cancer." Addie was made an honorary co-captain for the football team, and school members made and sold T-shirts that read, “Be Strong and Courageous."

“We wanted to let her know that she wasn't fighting alone,” Hanson said.

The team also adopted the motto “Refuse to Lose” that Hanson said applied to both the team and Addie.

Even after the black-out game, Walstad said students have continued to wear the T-shirts on days Addie has chemo treatments, taking selfies and sending them to Addie for support.

As the Black Panthers continued to find success through the season, and eventually headed back to the DakotaDome for the Class 9AA state championship, the team made sure Addie knew she was a part of it all. Her name was listed as a co-captain on the team’s T-shirts that listed a roster of the players.

The Panthers, who defeated Canistota/Freeman 14-8 for the state title , again made sure to include Addie.

Knowing Addie was in the middle of chemo treatments and being conscientious about COVID-19, Platte-Geddes assistant coach Darren DeNeui secured a private suite at the DakotaDome for the Walstad family that let them be at the stadium, while also away from the crowds that let Addie take part in the game.

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The Walstad family from left, Will, Lin, Addie, Erin, Kelly, Bella and Bria pose for a photo together in their suite at the DakotaDome while attending the class 9AA state football championship game between Platte-Geddes and Canistota/Freeman on November 11 in Vermillion. (Photo courtesy Erin Walstad)

“Having him get those seats for us allowed her to be able to go to the game, which meant everything to her,” Walstad said. “She was very much so looking forward to being at the game because of what this team has done for her from the very beginning. She wanted to be there and be supportive to them.”

Hanson said the team asked the school administration permission to wear the black uniforms ahead of the title game for Addie. And despite the primary school colors being maroon and white, the school was on board with the black uniforms.

Following the presentation of medals, the football team wasn’t done showing its support by walking over to the suite box and tossing a medal up to her.

“It just made me feel so happy to know that they supported me, because it is hard,” Addie said. “I look back and some days I just don't feel good. I think about that and it always just makes me smile.

“Just thinking about it — it gives me motivation just to keep fighting because the whole community is supporting you through this all, and it was just one of the best moments of my life. It was just amazing.”

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Alongside her mom Erin, left, and 7-year-old sister Bria, 13-year-old Addie Walstad, catches a gold medal tossed up to her in a private suite by members of the Platte-Geddes football team following their 14-8 win over Canistota/Freeman in the class 9AA state championship at the DakotaDome on Nov. 11 in Vermillion.(Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Hanson said giving a medal to Addie wasn’t pre-planned but rather spur of the moment and proof the team was thinking about her.

“One of our kids said, ‘We need to go get Addie her medal,’ and so that's what we did,” Hanson said. “She didn't have to do anything with us, and we were still going to support her. But we're glad she made the decision to jump on board with us.”

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Support comes in many ways

With five kids, Erin said the family is generally pretty busy.

Erin is a stay-at-home mom and serves as Addie’s primary caretaker while her husband, Lynn, works full-time. Erin said the number of ways in which the community has been able to offer aid has been appreciated.

Support has included meals being brought to the family during the week, community members going to the bank and setting up a medical fund for Addie and people asking about Addie's health.

As a member of the Platte-Geddes school band, Addie, who plays in the percussion section, hasn’t been able to join her bandmates.

That didn’t stop the band from coming out and holding a special performance in front of the Walstad’s home.

“We can't go anywhere in town that somebody isn't asking how she's doing,” Erin Walstad said. “If you stop at the post office, the gas station, the grocery store — somebody is asking us how she's doing. The genuine level of caring, concern has been overwhelming.”

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13-year-old Addie Walstad poses for a photo wearing the "Be Strong and Courageous" t-shirt that were made and sold to help support Addie and her family following a cancer diagnosis back in September. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Erin said the financial support has been impactful as well. It helps cover travel costs and expenses when the family takes time off from work. Lang, who is a teacher in the Kimball School District, has made more than 90 dozen cookies as part of various bake sales to help the Walstad family.

“She's known for her monster cookies because they're so good,” Erin said.

Lang is also helping organize a soup-supper benefit for the Walstad family between 5 and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4 at the Platte Community Building ahead of the town’s holiday parade of lights that begins at 7 p.m.

The football team will again show support, as it is volunteering at the soup-supper benefit.

“We’re really hoping for a fun community evening to unite together for this young lady,” Lang said.

Expecting a large group of people within close proximity at the community building, Erin said they didn’t plan for Addie to attend the benefit for safety precautions. But they are planning on watching the parade of lights.

“It's just nice to know that everybody wants to support me through this all,” Addie said. “It's calming and it gives me more peace to know that I'm not in this alone and everybody's right there next to me.”

— Reporter Hunter Dunteman contributed to this story.

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On Saturday, Dec. 4 a soup-supper benefit will be held at the Platte Community Building between 5 and 6:30 p.m. ahead of the town’s Parade of Lights that starts at 7 p.m. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade


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