After beating brain tumor, men’s soccer freshman uses foundation to help those with cancer

Posted on October 26th, 2018 by Travis Dix

15894By Drew Wilson, sports information director.

Nick Price is one of the many talented freshman on the Averett University men’s soccer team, but his odds of making here appeared to be impossible nearly four years ago.

“I was 15 when I was diagnosed,” Price said, recounting the start of his journey when doctors discovered a potentially fatal brain tumor. “From that day on I aged a lot mentally and maturity wise. I instantly had the mindset of ‘OK, how much life do I have left?'”

Using soccer as his motivation, Price beat the odds of survival and battled back from risky surgeries to resume his playing career.

But it wasn’t enough.

After receiving so much support from their community, Price and his family established the Nick Price Foundation to financially and emotionally support others with brain tumors or cancer.

“Seeing that at such an early age, it really kind of flipped my mentality upside down,” Price said. “I had a heightened sense of appreciation for everything. I still do. From being told you might die to beating it, you feel so lucky in a sense that you feel like you owe everything back.”


It was Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 — three days before high school varsity soccer tryouts — when Nick was met by his father at the bus stop after school.

The then-freshman had been bothered for a while by double vision when he looked to the right. He had previously visited an eye doctor, who confirmed Price had 20/20 vision. The optometrist said 99 percent of the time, Price’s condition was viral and would go away. There was only a one percent chance it could be something more serious. When the double vision didn’t subside over time, however, Price went through more tests.

That’s when the Price family was jolted with devastating news. Nick had been diagnosed with a pontine glioma, a highly aggressive brain tumor found in the brain stem that is difficult to treat. Often considered inoperable, the median life expectancy is less than a year.

Russ Price had known for about an hour or two when he drove to Nick’s bus stop that afternoon to deliver the news.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — to try to hold it together and tell your son,” he said.

Nick remembers feeling shell-shocked and numb on that ride home once he learned of his condition.

“My head felt heavy — it’s an indescribable feeling that only people who have been diagnosed could feel where you instantly know you could probably die in a couple of weeks,” he recalled. “When I got home and my whole family was there circled around me crying, then I broke down.”

Nick’s mother, Marie, still has a hard time talking about that day.


“I tear up every time,” she said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. “It was literally the worst day of our lives. We had just had a kid in our neighborhood die from a pontine glioma brain tumor. We supported that family not knowing that not even nine months later after his death that Nick would have a brain tumor in the same exact spot. It was a huge blow to our whole family.”

Shattered, Nick found himself angry when he finally had a moment to be alone that night. “Why me?” he naturally thought. But then he had a revelation that answered his own question.

“Because I’m strong.”

“I’ve believed the quote from Day 1 that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest warriors,” Nick said. “I woke up the next morning and I went up to my dad and said, ‘You know what, I know why it’s me. It’s because I’m strong and I can beat this, and I’m going to help other people when I’m through with it.'”

Nick’s determination and drive helped the Price family pick up the pieces. They turned their attention to treatment options. While Nick’s mindset remained positive, many physicians warned about the dangers of surgery.

“We had doctors calling all throughout the country saying do not have this surgery, telling my mom that she was about to kill her son or he could lose the use of his legs – which is a big deal as a soccer player,” Nick said. “But I was focused on keeping my life at that point.”


Perhaps one of the best ways to cope with adversity is to find some sense of normalcy to get through. Despite being diagnosed with a brain tumor, Nick still went to his varsity soccer tryouts, played and made the varsity team at Academic Magnet School. He was assigned jersey No. 17.

“Out of curiosity, I looked up the biblical meaning of the number 17,” he said. “It means ‘complete dominance in victory over the enemy.'”

Nick, who still wears No. 17 now in his first season at Averett, was so inspired by the meaning that he had the number inked on his ribs.

The Price family has been comforted through what they believe were signs and good omens throughout Nick’s journey. After fielding what seemed like mostly grim medical opinions, the Prices continued to thoroughly research all options, which led them to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

“They had world-class surgeons — the same surgeons that worked on Muhammad Ali,” Nick said.

Still, surgery was risky.

“It was between diagnosis day and surgery six months later that we had to pray for signs that we were doing the right thing,” Marie said. “He could have very easily died that day during surgery. You have all this conflicting information and didn’t know what to do. We just had to go with our gut and what we thought was best.”

The phrase “No luck needed” adorns Nick’s right arm, a reminder of a monumental moment that helped comfort the Price family and assure them they had made the right decision to go through with surgery. Nick and his parents were in the holding room awaiting his first operation. As Nick was being wheeled down the hall for his procedure, Marie instinctively told the doctor, “Good luck.”

“He kept walking and didn’t even look back,” Marie recalled. “He said, ‘No luck needed.’ Those were probably the best words he could have said to us at that moment. He was so confident.”

Then came another sign from above — literally — that gave the Price family peace of mind.

“I asked for signs all along the way, and I would get them generally,” Marie said. “We were in the waiting room during his first surgery, and you can only imagine how scared we were. Our entire family and friends where in this area of the waiting room. It was a huge waiting room. Russ looks up and was like, ‘What is that?’ It was a sticker and it was the same hunter green as his high school colors and it had the number ’17’ written on it. It was on a 12-foot ceiling. It was nowhere else in the entire waiting room. We looked. It was just right above where we were sitting in the center of our little area.”

One of the major obstacles with a pontine glioma is the location at the stem of the brain. That region in the pons area is the part of the brain that is involved with the control of breathing, communication, limb function, coordination and balance. One wrong move during surgery and the result could be devastating. And there were scary moments during Nick’s first surgery.

“My blood pressure spiked for one second and the anesthesiologist said to wrap it up,” Nick said. “They were touching something that they weren’t supposed to be, and that’s exactly when I could have lost the use of my legs.”

A few days later, doctors performed a second surgery. When they went back in, scar tissue from the initial incisions had formed around the tumor, allowing the medical team to see the tumor more clearly.

Marie recalled the moments after doctors successfully removed 99 percent of Nick’s tumor.

“Both surgeons came out with big grins on their faces,” she remembered. “They said, ‘We got it!'”


In the six months between Nick’s diagnosis day and his surgeries, he not only made his high school’s varsity team but he also made an elite club soccer team, which was scheduled to begin practice several weeks after his procedures. Nick had his sights set on being there for the first practice.

“His No. 1 goal just prior to surgery was ‘I’m going to beat this as quick as possible and I want to get back on the soccer field as quick as possible,'” Russ said.

It was going to be a long road from the operating table to the soccer field, and there were no guarantees Nick would ever be the player he once was before surgery. The right side of his face was completely paralyzed for about a year after his operation and his double vision took time to subside. Still, Nick was determined to bounce back quickly. Over the next few weeks, he astonished medical personnel with his progress.

In the days following his surgery, Nick was hypersensitive to nearly everything. He was dizzy. His vision was fuzzy. He couldn’t eat for days without getting sick. He lost significant weight. Yet, it didn’t deter him. Instead, it fueled him.


“I remember one day, he walked out with his walker and turned around at the point where they said to turn around,” Marie said, recalling Nick’s recovery in ICU.

But doing the bare minimum wasn’t enough for Nick.

“He put all the anger into it and flipped right back around and walked further,” she said.

Nick didn’t stop there.

“There was a time where we got back to the room and he said, ‘Dad, grab my soccer ball,'” Russ recounted. “And that’s when we dribbled at a very slow pace without the walker probably 200 yards in a square in the ICU. And the nurses couldn’t believe it.”

Nick’s hard work paid off. Weeks later, after much rehab, he returned home and made his first club practice.

“I couldn’t see anything,” Nick said. “My vision was extremely blurry. I had lost 20 pounds of solid muscle. I didn’t eat for four days after my surgery. But to just be out there meant the world to me. It was a very big personal accomplishment to say I did it and that I was going to keep doing it.”


Immediately after his diagnosis, Nick made a promise to himself that he wanted to use his journey to help others. How? It was something that started to take shape following an outpouring of community support from the Charleston area.

Local soccer teams began writing “NP17” on their arms or uniforms. Local media began picking up on Nick’s story. Word spread across the region. The community held fundraisers, anonymous donors and churches sent money or gift cards. Some people even donated hotel points for the Price family during their stay in Phoenix during Nick’s surgery and rehab.

“When you go through your day-to-day life, you can sometimes feel like it’s a pretty cynical world,” Russ said “… It was amazing with the community support that we had. We learned that it was a pretty beautiful world.”

“We were blown away,” Marie added. “At first, we were so self-sufficient that we were like no, we’ve got this. But then when we figured out we didn’t know where he could get treatment or what that would take to pay for treatment, we just decided to let people do that and we wouldn’t spend any of it that we didn’t have to. It could go back to other people.”

That’s how the Nick Price Foundation was established.

“Taking all this anonymously donated money, I couldn’t give it back because I didn’t know who gave it to me,” Nick said. “I decided to turn that into the Nick Price Foundation, which is a foundation that helps families deal with cancer financially, emotionally — whatever they need.”

After his foundation got 501(c)(3) status as a non-profit organization, the Nick Price Foundation was off and running. Nick took classes at Duke University to get non-profit manager certified and remains very active in his foundation, making it a priority to advocate for families who are dealing with similar circumstances. He said the foundation has a following from 33 different countries and has even benefited from fundraisers from as far away as Belgium.

“During those six months, he was the rock of the family,” Russ said, describing his son. “He never strayed from the fact that he was going to beat this. All the odds were stacked against him. So we were super proud of him for that. But even more so, he said he was going to help other people. He beat this and then he created the Nick Price Foundation. To this day, that’s what he loves to do — help other families who are going through what we went through.”

For his work, Nick was one of 12 people in his area nominated for the Jefferson Awards, which are given at both the national and local levels to those who do extraordinary things without the expectation of recognition. He then was selected to go to the national Jefferson Awards. Although he didn’t receive one of the national honors, Nick was able to speak during the closing remarks of the ceremony and tell his story.

“What I promised everybody was that I’m never going to stop doing this,” Nick said. “I have a lot of promises to keep, but I feel like God kept me on this planet for a reason. I always say God gives his hardest battles to the toughest warriors. I stick by that, and I truly believe I can grow my foundation to something huge.”

Nick’s ambitions are to continue taking classes that will help him expand his foundation. Once he finishes his undergraduate degree from Averett, he plans to get his master of business administration degree from Averett as well. Also, he is currently a part of the national Bonner Leaders program, an intensive, four-year community leadership opportunity through a partnership with the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, and serves as a public outreach assistant for the University of Virginia Cancer Center.

Expanding the footprint of the Nick Price Foundation into Danville is also something the Price family is interested in doing while Nick is at Averett.

“Nick’s all about the foundation now and helping raise money for other kids with pediatric brain tumors and other people with cancer,” Russ said. “And really the next step is introducing Danville to the Nick Price Foundation. What can we do for people here? Can we do some fundraisers here? Can we help other people who might be in the same or similar position as Nick?”


Averett men’s soccer head coach Philip Wilson first crossed paths with Price while working several soccer ID camps at Duke and at North Carolina State University two years ago.

“I was fortunate enough to have him on my team during those camps,” Wilson said. “He showed an excellent work rate and discipline on and off the field. At the time, I didn’t know too much of his backstory, but over the course of two years of having him at camps, I got to know him a little bit more. He was willing to share his story.”

Through their conversations, the two began building a bond.

“He asked me and brought up Averett,” Nick said. “He asked me if I was interested in playing college soccer. I started looking into Averett and I was really surprised about how many programs they have for non-profiting and community involvement. It was a small school just like my high school.”

The two remained in contact. Although Price looked at several Division II schools, it was the personal connections and sense of family that drew him to choose Averett as his new home.

“Coach Phil has been a huge mentor for him over the past couple of years,” Marie said. “I think the connection they have is amazing because he’s always checked on Nick. We can’t be more proud of him for picking this school based on a relationship. He wants to work really hard for this school. He loves this school and he loves his coach.”

Price is part of a large group of freshmen making an immediate impact on the Averett men’s soccer team, which finishes its season on Friday — Nick’s 19th birthday.

“We knew he would fit into the culture we’re developing here,” Wilson said. “On the field, he gives 100 percent every day, even if he’s not feeling his best. We’ve been relying heavily on a lot of freshmen this year, and he’s one of those leaders of that freshman class.”

With such a young roster, Wilson said Price’s journey over the past four years has made him a leader and a role model for other freshmen teammates.

“He’s one of those individuals who likes to face the challenge,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t back away. He’s willing to face it head on. He’s actually helped some of the other freshmen along the way do the same by telling them if they face it head on, you get over it a little quicker. It’s excellent to see from someone who in theory is very young but maturity wise is well above his age.”

Making the transition from high school to college brings its various challenges for any freshman. However, someone like Price can put those trivial bumps in the road into perspective after facing a potentially fatal brain tumor.

Through it all, Price admits he wouldn’t change a thing about his journey.

“Ten times more positive things came out of this,” he said. “I don’t think I would have ever started a foundation to help families with cancer without that happening to me. I don’t think I would have ever seen the community this way. I don’t think I would have ever had the sense of appreciation that I do now. I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play for the U.S. Paralympic Team in Spain this past summer. It’s opened up a world of opportunities, from public speaking to holding fundraisers and changing lives.”

To read this on the Averett Athletics website, click here.