Players PromiseMay 11, 2018

Matt Lampson on Overcoming Cancer and Inspiring the Next Generation of Heroes

A cancer diagnosis, particularly for someone in their late teenage years, can feel like a sudden derailment of every carefully fostered dream. Even for those who beat the disease, there is a sense that their future has been radically altered. Matt Lampson understands this feeling. He also understands that he is a powerful counter example to that narrative.

Lampson grew up in Central Ohio and had played soccer for as long as he could remember. In his words, he was an “above-average” goalkeeper. He showed that as a two-time MVP at St. Charles Preparatory School in 2006 and 2007 and as he helped the Crew Soccer Academy advance to the Academy National Finals in 2008. He was also was a five-time Ohio South State Champion.

While Lampson loved the game and wanted to play Division I soccer in college, he never expected to play professionally. “I grew up in an academic household and I went to an academic high school.” said Lampson, “So, with my parents, and all my siblings, there was big emphasis on ‘you’re going to school for a degree and that’s what you’re going to make with your life.’ So it’s not like I ever thought that I would be a professional athlete."

Matt Lampson plays for the Crew

Still, for Lampson, the dream of playing in college was still very much a part of his thinking as he approached the end of high school. Unfortunately, it was then that a serious threat to that dream took shape in the form of a Hodgkin's lymphoma diagnosis just two weeks before graduation.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer that is most commonly diagnosed in patients between 20 and 40 years old. It causes fatigue, fever, and often, enlargement of the lymph nodes. In more advanced cases, it can spread to other organs.

“I was diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which is a blood cancer.” Lampson said, “It had spread to my pancrease, my lungs, and my bone marrow, and I had cancerous lymph nodes throughout my entire body, with the biggest one being orange and softball sized lymph nodes in my chest and stomach area.”

Fortunately for Lampson, Hodgkins lymphoma tends to respond well to treatment. Unfortunately, that treatment is still very hard on the patient. “After my diagnosis,” Lampson recalled, “I went through maybe a year’s worth of chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I gained a lot of weight. I tried to play soccer as much as I could, but if anyone knows anything about cancer treatment, they know it destroys your healthy tissue as much as it destroys cancer tissue. So my red blood cell count was getting knocked to zero regularly. My ability to exercise was extremely impaired, but I still held onto the love of the game.”

Matt Lampson plays for Minnesota

Lampson also still held onto his dream of playing Division I soccer. However, it was a dream tempered by reality. He was not in top physical condition and had lost momentum from his success in high school. In the end, only one program would give him a spot, and he enrolled in Northern Illinois University. Unfortunately, the timing and the fit were just not right. “I was still having complications and side effects from cancer treatment,” Lampson remembered, “and at the same time I just was not happy there. Not only from an academic side, but from the soccer side particularly.”

Undeterred by the setback, Lampson then reached out to Ohio State. He was hoping they might take him as a walk-on. John Bluem, who retired last year after 20 years at Ohio State, surprised Lampson by welcoming him aboard as their fourth goalkeeper. Lampson still credits Bluem as a major contributor to his career.

Lampson thrived at Ohio State and became their starting goalkeeper for three years. He holds a school record with just 0.86 goals against average and he chalked up 24 shutouts between the posts. But, he didn’t forget what he had gone through to get there. “During my time at Ohio State I was helping with the Leukemia Lymphoma Society,” said Lampson, “which is a blood cancer awareness program that does a lot of work with communities and raising money to find cures for blood cancers.”

Toward the end of his first year at Ohio State, Lampson began to realize that professional soccer was a possibility. He maintained a relationship with the Columbus Crew throughout his college years and was eventually picked up as a Homegrown player. That was when he really began to take his work with cancer patients seriously. “After I turned professional and signed my deal with the Columbus Crew I kind of realized that this was an opportunity with the platform that I have as a professional athlete to really make a difference in people’s lives, and hopefully help people, “Lampson explained, “So in my second year in Columbus I filed with the government for a 501(c)(3), and I started the LampStrong Foundation.”

It’s not like ‘Oh, well I went through cancer so I can do anything.’ It was a legitimate personality switch.

To Lampson, cancer wasn’t just something he overcame. It was something that helped him become the person and the player he is today. “It’s not like ‘Oh, well I went through cancer so I can do anything.’ It was a legitimate personality switch.” said Lampson, “To the point of deciding  I’m not gonna let anyone prevent me from doing what I want to do and prevent me from achieving the things that I want to achieve. I knew that nobody that I’ll be playing against will have gone through what I went through. So these people don’t realize how badly I want it, that’s just the kind of mindset I had following treatment and it’s carried me through.”

Lampson does admit that this way of thinking wasn’t easy to develop. “I had no guidance post treatment on how to get healthy again. I had nobody really to look up to in order to say ‘Oh, I can do this.’” Today, that is a big part of what he hopes to provide for others. “Ultimately, one of my goals is to prevent people from having to go through the same experiences I did because cancer sucks in general and the recovery is even worse. If I can help in any way for people to have a better road to recovery, then that’s what I want to do.”

LampStrong Hero with Matt Lampson

One of the things Lampson felt he saw in the world of cancer treatment and support was a lack of services specifically for people in a certain age range. “You see a lot of adult cancer hospitals and pediatric cancer hospitals but there is this group in between that’s just kind of forgotten about.” he noted, “To me it’s actually the most difficult experience in that age range, like 16 to 24 or 25. That’s the group that I really can communicate with and relate to. Those are the kind of patients that I’m really good at interacting with.”

The LampStrong Foundation professes a fairly broad vision. The organization’s goal “is to positively influence the lives of those battling cancer and encourage survivors and their families to make the most of their second chance at life,” but unsurprisingly, Lampson himself looks at it a little more personally. “The whole goal of the LampStrong Foundation is to support both emotionally and mentally, and sometimes even financially, post-cancerous health. We do a lot of work with hospitals to encourage people to be healthy during treatment in order to help them get back to, or as close to precancerous condition as possible when they’re finished. This was my biggest difficulty going through it because I gained so much weight, and I still wanted to get back and do the things that I loved to do. That’s what we try to help people to do. It’s a huge passion of mine.”

Even if they look sick right now, they can be healthy, they can beat this cancer and they can do literally anything they want to do.

The Foundation welcomes support from whoever is willing to provide it. Those interested in making donations can join Team LampStrong and help support the organization’s programming. Lampson himself suggests another approach. “My favorite way to do it is to buy shirts, because at $25 a piece you can actually represent my foundation and we’ve got some really killer designs. Like I said, all of that goes to helping patients and families with cancer.”

The LampStrong Foundation has become a big part of Lampson’s life as a professional soccer player, but he fully intends this to be a lifelong mission. While he hopes that someone will take the reins in the game, and has even suggested Mason Stajduhar who recently began treatment for bone cancer, Lampson doesn’t intend to go away himself. “I’m not gonna just do this foundation for however long I play and have it be over. Cancer doesn’t go away and neither do I,” Lampson said, “It’s always gonna be there and my message is always gonna remain the same.”


Matt Lampson is currently a goalkeeper for Minnesota United FC. You can follow Matt on Twitter and Instagram for more on his work with cancer patients and their families. If you would like to support his efforts you can donate to LampStrong or buy a t-shirt.