Fighting Tiger: Kayne Finley

BATON ROUGE, LA - A cancer diagnosis could have stopped Kayne Finley from attending college. Instead it made him fight harder.

“Since he was a little kid, he always loved purple and gold. He found out about Mike the Tiger and he said, ‘I think that would be a great school to go to.’ He started researching schools for veterinary programs and of course, LSU always rose to the top for him,” said Kayne’s mom Kirsten Finley.

In August, the Florida resident applied to his first-choice university: LSU. But that excitement was overshadowed, as his health began to change.

“He started experiencing some symptoms: his balance being off, he couldn’t hear from his left ear, a little bit of double vision if he looked all the way to the left. And we couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Kirsten said.

Kirsten said they attributed his loss of weight to Kayne being in the middle of his competitive swim season. But a few months later, the biggest news of Kayne’s life didn’t come from a college acceptance letter, but an MRI.

“On November 23, he had an MRI that revealed he had brain cancer,” Kirsten said.

Soon after, Kayne was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) and doctors said his tumor was inoperable. DIPG tumors impact the brain stem.

“It’s typically in younger kids. It was really a shock for us. We just couldn't believe what was happening,” Kirsten said.

Kayne went through six weeks of radiation at Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, Florida followed by a clinical trial at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. During the December holidays, he received good news. Kayne was accepted to LSU.

“So, everything became focused on getting him healthy enough to come to LSU so that he could have the LSU experience,” Kirsten said.

But with that good news came more bad news: the clinical trial wasn’t helping.

“When I got kicked off the clinical trial for the tumor spreading it was kind of hard, but they (the doctors) were like, ‘We really want to get you to LSU,’” Kayne said.

Kayne said a team worked together to make his LSU dream become a reality, starting with the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“Their student services liaison worked with liaisons here at LSU through the LSU Experience and Dave Geyer, the head coach for swimming and diving. They coordinated with the LSU Department of Residential Life and the Office of Disability Services so that when we came for orientation, it wasn’t just about the orientation day itself. They created a four-day plan for him to experience the Museum at Baton Rouge, the levee, being able to explore the campus, different things within the four walls and he just loved every minute of it,” Kirsten said.

Dave Geyer, LSU’s head swimming coach, first learned about Kayne through another swimmer and #CannonballsForKayne. The movement was started to raise Kayne’s spirits after his initial diagnosis. #CannonballsForKayne turned viral after swimmers from around the country recorded videos of themselves jumping into pools. Geyer followed Kayne’s journey online and reached out to his family. Finally, during Kayne’s LSU orientation, the two met.

“You become amazed with this young man,” Geyer said.

Geyer took Kayne under his wing, even naming him the assistant manager for LSU’s swim team.

“He’s truly living his dream. He didn’t let this diagnosis stop him from pursuing the dream he had two years ago of LSU being his destination,” Geyer said. “From President F. King Alexander, all the way down to the swim coach, everybody here has been involved with him, and that speaks to the campus and the community as well.  That’s the reach he has made.”

“LSU is trying to do as much as they can to get me here and I’m trying to do as much as I can to be there and be square,” Kayne said.  

In early August, Kayne participated in STRIPES, a four-day program that prepares first-year students for the transition to LSU. 

“It's not just the environment. It's the people that are here, too. You meet so many new people and they're so open and then they're very respectful to you,” Kayne said.

Kayne said his family, including his LSU family, and his service dog Dementor, helped make his Tiger dreams come true.

“It's just really nice to know that the community at LSU specifically is very open, very nice. All the staff, I love them,” Kayne said.

Kayne said he isn’t embarrassed to share his diagnosis with his new classmates and friends. With help from his mom, he even started an organization to raise awareness about DIPG, naming it Cannonballs for Kayne.

“I want people to know that even through having cancer, I still pushed and persevered,” Kayne said. “Even though statistically you’re not supposed to survive, you still do want to live, because if not, I wouldn’t have a legacy.”

Additional Link:

Kayne Finley and his service dog Dementor, visiting the Tiger Habitat on LSU's campus. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Finley.Kayne Finley and LSU President F. King Alexander. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Finley.Kayne Finley and head swimming coach Dave Geyer. Geyer named Finley an assistant manager for LSU’s swim team. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Finley.




Contact Rachel Spangenthal
LSU Media Relations


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