Patrick McCaffery and Austin Schroeder were friends long before cancer disrupted each of their lives.
They live near each other in Coralville and are classmates at North Central Junior High.
They both also share a passion for sports. Patrick’s favorite sport is basketball, while Austin likes to play whatever is in season.
But that’s insignificant compared to what they share now as 14-year old boys battling cancer together. Their friendship has taken on a new meaning — it’s no longer just about playing sports and having fun.
“It means a lot because I can’t really talk to anybody else the same age as I am that’s going through the stuff that I’ve had to go through,” said Patrick, who is the son of Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery. “And his is a little worse than mine is. So he’s awesome.”
The boys were present at Monday’s unveiling of #Herky, one of the 83 Herky on Parade statues. This particular piece of public art is covered in thousands of popular hashtags, including #TeamPat and #TeamFLASH, created in honor of Patrick and Austin, respectively.
#Herky stands in front of Biology Building East on Iowa Avenue.
Patrick and Austin both learned about their medical situation about the same time in March. Patrick had a malignant tumor on his thyroid removed March 19, while Austin was diagnosed with stage three non-Hodgkin Lymphoma about a week after returning from a family vacation in Mexico during spring break.
“It helps an unbelievable amount that they can actually hang out and talk with each other knowing what each is going through,” said Austin’s father, Craig Schroeder. “Even though they’re two different types of cancer, they’re having to deal with the same thing at school. They’re both popular boys and everybody wants to show their support and ask a lot of questions. And sometimes I’m sure it can be overwhelming for a young boy that just wants to be healthy and back to normal.”
On Monday, the boys posed for photographs and chatted with UI students on their way to and from class.
But mostly, Patrick and Austin talked with each other.
“I love Patrick as a friend, he’s awesome,” Austin said when asked what it has meant having Patrick at his side through this adversity.
Fran McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, were unable to attend Monday’s unveiling because they were in New York City for the announcement that the Big Ten and Big East Conferences had formed a new men’s basketball event.
The McCafferys have been a source of strength for Austin’s family, the Schroeders said.
“Patrick and Margaret and Fran were among the first ones to reach out to us once everybody found out what we had,” Craig Schroeder said. “And it’s been great. They’ve been hanging around with each other at lot in the hospital and at our house.”
Fran McCaffery has spoken publicly about how much his family appreciates the support from fans and from the community. He also has expressed his gratitude for the outstanding medical care that Patrick has received at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics.
Criag Schroeder and his wife, Stacy, said they both feel the same way, each overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and care.
“We’re truly blessed,” Stacy Schroeder said. “We’re so happy to be close to town where we can just drive up to the university and everybody, I’m not kidding, everybody there has been unbelievable … the doctors, the nurses, all the staff, everybody is just so wonderful. They just do what they can to make these kids happy.”
Sports also have played key roles in the healing process for both boys.
Patrick McCaffery has formed a special bond with NBA star point guard Chris Paul since being diagnosed. Patrick, who recently started playing competitive basketball again, also has the support of the entire UI sports community, as does Austin Schroeder.
Craig Schroeder beamed with pride while talking about the three occasions during which members of the Iowa football team visited Austin in the hospital. The Iowa wrestling team and head coach Tom Brands also visited, as have members of the Iowa baseball team.
“It’s just been unbelievable how they’ve reached out,” Criag Schroeder said. “This community has just overwhelmed us with the amount of love and respect and support they have shown. It has touched our hearts in so many different ways.”
Craig Schroeder admires his son’s courage and strength, saying Austin handled the diagnosis like a champ.
Austin said he is grateful that he has the support from so many family and friends and from people he doesn’t even know.
“It’s incredible all this support that we have,” Austin said. “Everyone just keeps fighting and that’s all we can ask for.”
Patrick McCaffery echoed that sentiment.
“It just been huge,” Patrick said of the support. “It’s been awesome.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball