Digs for Cancer: How a high school volleyball player raised money to fight the disease

Notre Dame College Prep's Caiden Frawley receives a check highlighting the amount of money donated to his fundraiser through the American Cancer Society.
Caiden Frawley holds a check of $2,051.25 donated to the American Cancer Society. (Caleb Nixon/MEDILL)

By Caleb Nixon
Medill Reports

On a typical frigid February day, Caiden Frawley, a senior volleyball player at Notre Dame College Prep, took his usual morning walk from the street to the school after parking his car. Approaching the campus, his daily routine was consumed by a thought.

“I thought that the best way to give back is to take some of the money out of my pocket, that I know someone else deserves more than I do, and try to give that back to those people out there who are fighting cancer,” Frawley said.

The idea was spurred by the impact of cancer within the student’s community. In January, one of his childhood friends lost his father to brain cancer. Before that, in February 2023, tragedy struck twice: A family member died from leukemia, and the community mourned the loss of 8-year-old Molly Morris, who battled kidney cancer. Molly was a student at Saint Monica Academy – the grammar school attended by Frawley.

Frawley’s volleyball coach, Peter Maniscalco, said he remembers the moment when his libero initiated this idea.

“He came up and said that he didn’t want to do something as little as changing a shoelace to a pink color or writing something on his shoes that you see some guys do,” Maniscalco said.

“He said right from the start, ‘I want it to be even more impactful to where I can feel good about it in the long run that I did my best to help multiple people.’”

Just weeks away from beginning his senior season, Frawley created a fundraiser page called Caiden’s Digs for Cancer Research. The coach and the libero agreed that for every defensive dig  Frawley recorded this season, they would donate $1 toward the fundraiser.

“I can’t say I was shocked, but I was more impressed,” Maniscalco said. “Caiden is someone that I would expect to do that and put others first.”

Frawley’s mother recalls the day when Caiden returned home from school and told her about the idea.

“At first I was a little skeptical. I was like, ‘Oh, OK, is it really going to work? Are you thinking it through?’” she said. After seeing the fundraiser page, she realized the importance of the idea. “This is the first time he’s taken initiative to start something on his own, but he’s always had ideas and wants to help people.”

According to the American Cancer Society, Illinois is sixth in the U.S. for new cancer cases thus far in 2024. Kiyoko Czech, a senior development manager and ACS local representative, explained fundraisers are especially valuable in the youth environment.

“I always say it’s filling the toolbox of cancer-fighting because we need additional tools,” Czech said at Notre Dame College Prep’s Senior Night on May 13. “We need to figure out why cancer happens, what are the causes and what we can do to fight back against that cancer.”

“It’s something so simple and it wasn’t very complicated,” Czech said. “But he was like, ‘How can I find a way to give back in something I’m already doing?’ That’s the amazing part because he went and did the research himself, found our Raise Your Way platform, set up his own website to take the donations and was off to the races.”

Frawley’s senior night also included a luminary ceremony to honor those affected by cancer in their lives. Attendees wrote names on paper bags, which were then lit in a luminescent blue as the gym lights went dark.

Notre Dame College Prep honors those lost to cancer during a luminary ceremony with the American Cancer Society.
The Notre Dame College Prep boy’s volleyball team gathers around the glowing paper bags shaped like a cancer ribbon on May 13, 2024. (Caleb Nixon/MEDILL)

“It is that light of hope that we’re sharing with everybody who’s here with us tonight,” Czech said. “We have lost some people, but there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.”

According to Maniscalco, Frawley ended the season with 280 digs in 31 games. Additionally, the fundraiser page received $2,496 through donations, and seven local high school coaches also matched the dollar-per-dig donation.

“Other coaches would come up and they’d say, ‘Hey, I don’t want him to go off for 20 digs against us tonight, but I’d really like to support him and what he’s doing is awesome,’” Maniscalco said.

Jennifer Frawley said she has received similar feedback from family friends.

“People who’ve known him for a long time are seeing it and they’re like, ‘It doesn’t surprise me. That’s Caiden. He’s doing that because that’s the kind of person he is,’” she said.

As Frawley concludes his final season of high school volleyball, he will have raised nearly $5,000 toward cancer research, an effort that embodies the qualities attributed by those closest to him.

“Being able to give back is one of my top priorities,” Frawley said. “It’s one of my biggest morals. I always know that there’s someone out there who needs something more than I do.”

“I’m very privileged. I go to a great school. I have a roof over my head. I have food on my plate every day. I just know that there may be people out there who have less than me, and I just feel like it’s my duty as a person to be able to give back to those people that might not have as much.”

Caleb Nixon is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on X, Instagram and TikTok @calebnixonmedia.