By Carol Lawson-Swezey
Photos fade, memories dim but a mother’s love never, ever dies.
Sherry Fritts’ son, Lance, was just 19 when leukemia took him in September of 1999. He would have turned 35 this Feb. 11.
In a life that was jam packed during his short 19 years, Lance Fritts never gave up and never gave in to his cancer diagnosis. He fought to live and to live large. In spite of his four-year battle with the disease, Lance served as the team captain of the Buchanan High School varsity swim team, played water polo, served on an advisory committee for the construction of Valley Children’s Hospital and still managed to graduate with his class in 1998. He died a short time later.
For the past 15 years, Sherry Fritts has worked tirelessly to raise funds to keep Lance’s spirit alive. Since 2000, Fritts and her family have raised more than $98,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) in Lance’s name, and also provided more than $18,000 in scholarships through the Lance Fritts Memorial Scholarship at Buchanan High School.
Fritts has had the help of other fellow warriors in her fight against cancer. In 2003, as part of his senior leadership project at Buchanan High, student Ryan Quigley helped start a scholarship in Lance’s name.
“We were told by our advisor to create something which would continue after we were gone,” Quigley said. “Everyone at school knew of Lance and how he fought with courage for so long. He never let his illness get him down and he had so much of himself to give. In establishing the scholarship, I hoped to carry on Lance’s spirit and inspire others to live such altruistic lives.”
Quigley raised $400, which was matched by Lance’s family, thus establishing the ongoing Lance Fritts Memorial Scholarship at Buchanan. Quigley also found his life profoundly affected by cancer. His father, Patrick, was diagnosed with prostate and skin cancer and with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Following an intensive round of treatment, Patrick recently celebrated his seven-year anniversary of remission.
Ryan Quigley also participated in many LLS Team in Training (TnT) fundraising events. He earned his PhD from U.C. Irvine in Orthopedic Biomechanics in 2014. He will be receiving his MD from Irvine in June and then doing his residency in orthopedic surgery.
He is engaged to marry to Jennifer Johnson in May. The Fritts family has been invited to the wedding.
“The scholarship was an idea born out of remembrance for an individual, and while it will always be that, it has also become a foundation to foster and encourage Lance’s sense of service, altruism and leadership to future generations. It has been an honor to be involved with something that has honored so many incredible students over the last 12 years,” Quigley said.
The Fritts family had been participating in the LLS Light the Night Walk since shortly after Lance’s passing. After Quigley initiated the scholarship, they incorporated both the LLS and the Buchanan scholarship in their yearly fundraising efforts.
Jason, Lance’s brother, participated in two LLS TnT bicycle marathons, as well as the Wildflower Triathlon and Paris Marathon. Jason has also served as a Camp Sunshine Dreams Cancer Camp counselor for Valley Children’s Hospital for several summers.
The Fritts family has decided this will be their last year to fundraise.
“Years ago, we hoped to raise $100,000 for LLS and to continue Ryan’s project to honor Lance with the annual BHS memorial scholarship,” Fritts said. “Hopefully this year we will surpass that LLS goal, as well as preserve Lance’s imprint as a Buchanan bear. Each year, the process is bitter and sweet. I cherish the ongoing support of family and friends, while at the same time remembering the depth of our loss of Lance to leukemia. He gave so much more in his 19 years than we can even attempt to provide through our efforts.”
Fritts is serving as mission captain for a 100-mile Lake Tahoe TnT bike ride in June, but training has been more than an uphill battle. She is still recovering from a serious bike accident last year, one that left her with plates and screws in her ankle. This year, she is riding and fundraising not only for Lance, but also for family friend Jean Hirayama, who lost her battle with lymphoma in 1991.
In 2013, after completing her first Lake Tahoe century ride, Fritts raised over $11,000 for LLS.
“I rode the loaner bike to the cemetery to tell Lance the news,” she said.
Since 2003, 18 Buchanan seniors have received Fritts’ scholarships, including three in 2008 when the committee couldn’t decide between several worthy candidates.
“The recipients have been selected not only based only on G.P.A., but because they worked hard and gave back to their community by showing they did for others as much as for themselves,” said Sherry Fritts.
Lance received the Circle of Life award from the Central California Blood Center in 1998 for outstanding service, as well as being the recipient of blood products through transfusions while waging his battle against blood cancer.
“I feel that Lance’s Circle of Life represents how we give and receive the benefits of our labor, service and contributions to others,” said Sherry Fritts. “The connection between the Leukemia Society, the Blood Center, Ryan Quigley’s scholarship in memory of Lance and its ongoing gift to BHS students, as well as the continuing efforts to fundraise for a cure for blood cancer by Lance, Jason and Ryan continues the circle of giving of life, character, perseverance and never-ending love to others.”
Tax deductible donations can be made to Lance’s scholarship by contacting Sherry Fritts at 259-4919 or at email@example.com. Donations to LLS can be made through the following link: http://pages.teamintraining.org.cca/ambbr15/sfritts