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Ohio State goalie back on top after battling late-stage lymphoma

Andy Gottesman / The Lantern

Matt Lampson has battled for more than the starting goalkeeper spot on the Ohio State men’s soccer team. Lampson is a survivor of late-stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Diagnosed on June 10, 2007, three days after graduating from St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus, Lampson was told the lumps in his chest were cancer. He had Stage 4B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the worst type, which was affecting his organs and bones.

Lampson, then 17, had cancerous masses the size of baseballs on his lymph nodes from his neck to his waist. He also had spots on his pancreas, shoulders, lungs, and bones.

Lampson never paused to consider death. 

“I thought, ‘What does it take to beat this?'” he said.

After his diagnosis, Lampson wanted to play one more game at the regional tournament with his team, the Ohio FC Eagles. One week later, doctors had to implant an Infusaport, a vein-entry location, in the center of his chest. He began his chemotherapy almost immediately. 

His chemo regimen was a combination of seven drugs administered over a 21-day period. He spent eight hours a day in the outpatient unit at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Each one-month cycle would add up to six of the worst months of his life. 

“It was hell on earth,” Lampson said. 

Following each round, he received both CT and PET scans to check the progress of his chemo.

After his second round of chemo, the PET scan came back negative. On Sept. 24, 2007, Lampson thought he had beaten cancer. “It was my second birthday,” Lampson said. “I don’t care about my real birthday, this is my new day.”

But Lampson still had to endure two more rounds of chemo to ensure it had killed all cancerous cells.

In the second round of chemo, he began losing his hair.

“I thought it wasn’t a big deal,” Lampson said. “It’s just hair, but it’s demoralizing. People stare and going out in public was tough. I was self-conscious.”

However, his sense of humor was hardly damaged.

“The worst thing was losing your eyebrows. People look funny without eyebrows,” he said.

In addition, Lampson’s weight shot up to 250 pounds. At first glance, he was a different person, but his infectious smile reminded loved ones he was still himself and he was still fighting. 

Lampson said the third and fourth rounds of chemo were miserable.

“It’s the worst experience to ever go through. It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t been through it,” Lampson said. 

Despite his sheer exhaustion, he attempted to play soccer three or four days a week after his eight-hour days in chemo. 

Lampson completed his fourth round with optimism and anticipated getting back on the field. 

However, he was dealt even more devastating news.

The CT scan showed his lymph nodes had shrunk, but not enough. He would have to face two more rounds of chemo. 

Initially, Lampson refused further treatment. He was sure if two rounds of chemo killed the cancer, certainly four rounds would. Two weeks later, with encouragement from his father, he agreed he would undergo two more of the treatment. 

Following his first six months of treatment, Lampson endured two months of radiation. For this he has seven tiny dot tattoos, which mark exactly where he received radiation.

“Chemo was terrible, but it’s not long-term. You get over it,” Lampson said.

Lampson finished his treatments in February 2008. 

“It was a weight off my shoulders. I could start getting back in shape,” he said.

Getting back in shape is exactly what Lampson did. He said that he hasn’t had fast food or carbonated beverages in more than a year.

In just two-and-a-half months, he secured the starting goalkeeper position on the Columbus Crew Academy and led the team to a third-place finish at the National Championship. 

“It was an unreal experience. I mean to go from 250 pounds on my deathbed to playing for the National Championship in three to four months was unreal,” Lampson said.

In August of 2008, Lampson began his freshman season at Northern Illinois University. He felt the adverse effects of the radiation, which caused three massive stomach ulcers.

After a month-and-a-half and losing 25 more pounds, he returned to training with the team.

However, it was not what he wanted.

Lampson talked with Ohio State coach John Bluem about the goalkeeper spot on his team. Bluem explained there were others who the team had its eye on to start before Lampson, but he would be happy to have him on the team.

Lampson started the 2009 season with the Buckeyes in “the best shape I’ve ever been in,” he said. 

Standing at 6-feet, 3-inches and 190 pounds, he recognizes that his lung capacity and overall fitness is not as good as he would like, but facing adversity has made him a much more driven individual.

He never wants anyone to think of him as the kid who had cancer, he said.

Eight hour days in chemo, seven tattoos, hemoglobin counts and weight fluctuation are numbers of Lampson’s past. Numbers that now define his life are 760 minutes played across eight games. He has 29 saves this season and five shutouts. Lampson admits his communication in the goal box could use a little polishing, but otherwise he is extremely well-rounded. 

Lampson has also raised more than $2,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The team walked beside him Oct. 3 in the Light the Night walk, which benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. 

Lampson suffered a minor ankle injury in practice, which kept him out of the game against Northwestern on Oct. 4. However, the ankle injury did not slow him down. He posted shutouts against Oakland and Cleveland State last week to be named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Week for men’s soccer, the second time he has earned that title this season.

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