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‘Play For ABTA’ Shines Light on Brain Tumor Awareness

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Play For ABTA Fundraiser
(Photo credit: Kendrick Arakaki; Willamette University)

When Amanda Carpenter’s mother Kim passed away after battling an aggressive brain tumor, the Oregon-based student athlete took it upon herself to organize “Play For ABTA,” a charitable game to honor her mom and support the brain tumor community.

Turning Passion Into Purpose

Kim Veenhuis and Amanda Carpenter
Amanda (right) and her mother Kim.

At Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Amanda Carpenter is used to balancing several plates as a graduate student studying economics and a star player on her school’s basketball team, the Bearcats.

Amanda is also grieving the loss of her mother, Kim Veenhuis who passed away in 2021 after a nearly two-year battle with glioblastoma (GBM), a grade 4 malignant (cancerous) brain tumor representing 15 percent of all primary brain tumors.

The mother of two, beloved wife, and devout follower of faith was also Amanda’s #1 fan on the basketball court – never missing a chance to cheer on her daughter. 

As Amanda processed the huge void left behind by the loss of her mom, she saw an opportunity to use her passion for the game to support a meaningful mission. 

“She was my biggest fan – we really owed this to her, and for the greater cause as well,” Amanda said. 

Soon after, Amanda started planning her fundraiser, “Play For ABTA.”

Play For ABTA Fundraiser
The fundraising event "Play For ABTA" at Willamette University raised more than $11,000 for brain tumor research and patient support services. (Photo credit: Kendrick Arakaki; Willamette University)

No Ordinary Brain Tumor Event

Amanda joined forces with the Willamette Athletics Department to make the January Bearcats home game into a tribute and fundraiser in honor of her mom, Kim.

The ABTA Fundraise Your Way program helps individuals organize their unique fundraising events and create personalized tributes or celebrate a milestone in support of brain tumor research and patient service programs. 

A former Bearcats Player and close family friend, Britanny Kochenderfer, worked with Amanda and the Athletics Department to plan the night’s events. 

“It was important to our athletic department and everyone else to do it right—not just to have it go by. We wanted it to be a really meaningful and impactful night,” Britanny said. 

Ahead of the game, the Bearcats posted a touching video where Amanda shared her mother’s battle with GBM and outlined the importance of funding brain tumor research. Her fundraising page quickly exceeded its initial $5,000 goal by the time January came around. 

“It was definitely a very important game for me and a lot of emotions leading up to the game. I have social media messages from so many people just saying how amazing it was that we were doing this for my mom,” Amanda said. 

"I have social media messages from so many people just saying how amazing it was that we were doing this for my mom."

— Amanda Carpenter, Willamette student athlete

A Night to Remember

On January 21, Amanda walked onto the court where family, friends, and fellow Bearcats were roaring in support.  

Amanda stunned the crowd by scoring a career-high 31 points and clinching the Bearcats’ 70-50 victory. Head coach Peg Swadener said she was awed by Amanda’s outstanding game and strength to share her family’s story in such a public setting.

“I don’t know if people understand how much strength that really takes,” Peg said. “To be able to perform and put together a game like she did… I don’t think it could have gone any better.” 

Amanda’s stepfather, Todd Veenhuis spoke during halftime at the men’s and women’s games about her mom, Kim’s, battle against GBM. Todd said the night brought out a special community of people impacted by brain tumors. 

“I’ve heard from at least three people who had a brain tumor story at that game. There was a guy I didn’t even know in the crowd who said, ‘Man, I lost my mom to a brain tumor. Thanks so much for doing this,’” Todd said. 

In total, the Play For ABTA fundraiser brought in just over $11,000 – soaring past initial expectations. 

“We had been planning on doing this for a while now, so being able to actually go through with it and for it to be such a large turnout was amazing,” Amanda said. 

Driving Awareness of Brain Tumor Research & Patient Programs

Todd said he and his family felt it was their responsibility to share Kim’s story publicly and organize the fundraiser to help build awareness and support research efforts. While classified as a rare disease, Todd said that brain tumors greatly impact the lives of those affected.

“Every event like this can help build awareness and let people know the facts about brain tumors, whether it’s glioblastoma specifically or brain tumors in general, and just how devastating of a disease it is,” Todd said.  

He said that sustaining research efforts led by organizations like the ABTA is key to discovering treatment breakthroughs. 

Play For ABTA Fundraiser at Willamette University
(Photo credit: Kendrick Arakaki; Willamette University)

“Four out of five of things we look into may not work, but that one is going to be special. It’s not going to have a minor impact; it’s going to make a difference."

— Todd Veenhuis, Kim's husband and Amanda's stepdad

Everyone behind the fundraiser agreed that the success of Play For ABTA should inspire similar events in the future. 

“We hope this isn’t a one-and-done fundraiser. If we can continue this next year and the year after that, that would be amazing,” Britanny said. 

You Can Fundraise for Brain Tumors Too

ABTA Fundraise Your Way events have raised $4.5 million to-date for brain tumor patient resources and education, as well as critical research on the causes, effects, diagnosis, and treatment of brain tumors. Click below to learn more about the program.
Jessie Schlacks

Jessie Schlacks

Jessie is Managing Editor of the bi-monthly e-newsletter MindMatters. Submit story ideas or questions to jschlacks@abta.org.

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