McFeely: After cancer diagnosis, behind-the-scenes Bison radio team veteran Bridget Kessler uses work at NDSU games as a balance
FARGO — Until a few months ago, one of Bridget Kessler's biggest health concerns was the possibility of getting run over by a college football player at the Fargodome. Kessler has long been part of the North Dakota State radio broadcast team, holding the parabolic microphone on the sidelines to pick up natural sounds of Bison games.
When you hear pads crunching or players celebrating during a radio broadcast, that's Kessler's salad-bowl-shaped mic picking up those sounds.
It's a part-time gig that's afforded Kessler an up-close view of Bison games for 14 years, when the radio contract has been held by WDAY-AM, KFGO-AM and in recent years Bison 1660-AM. She's worked with the late play-by-play legend Scott Miller — who was a close friend to Bridget and her husband Kevin — and Jeff Culhane.
Kevin has been the press box spotter for Miller and Culhane for 16 years, telling the announcers which players made tackles or carried the ball so the broadcast sounds seamless.
It's been mostly positive, of course, for Bridget. She has been there for every game, including all the playoff games in the dome and the six FCS Division I championship games in Frisco, Texas. She's savvy enough to stay out of harm's way, with the help of Bison sideline reporter Jeremy Jorgenson and the players, but there was one notable time she couldn't avoid getting stampeded.
It came in a 2009 game at the dome against Northern Iowa, when a scrum between the Bison and Panthers players surged toward the NDSU sideline and punches were exchanged between UNI linebacker L.J. Fort and NDSU running back Pat Paschall. Bridget got caught between the pack of players and the sideline wall, and was pushed backward over a bench and ended up on the ground pinned against the blue padding.
Miller, always the professional, described the fight to listeners and checked on the air to see if Bridget was OK. She was.
"No. 6 (cornerback Richard Bowman) picked me up and was so concerned. 'Oh my gosh, are you OK?,'" Bridget said, laughing. "The players have always been so nice."
Bridget shared the story Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Fargodome before NDSU's regular-season finale against Southern Illinois as she sat with Kevin in the press box. The purpose of the conversation was not necessarily to share stories, although that occurred, but instead to talk about a health concern much more serious than a sideline collision.
Bridget has cancer.
She was diagnosed in August with endometrial cancer, which begins in the lining of the uterus. So Bridget had a full hysterectomy in September, when doctors learned the cancer was also in her cervix. After a PET scan, another cancer cell was discovered on her paraaortic lymph node between one of her kidneys and her spine.
What doctors initially believed was Stage 1 cancer of her uterus has now been graded as a Stage 3, Grade 3 cancer. It's serious and there are questions about the future. Bridget is 52.
"It flattens you," Kevin said. "I'm sure it is the same with most cancer patients, especially ones as young as her. You get the diagnosis and you think it's fake. This can't be happening, right?"
Bridget has been undergoing treatment since the diagnosis and spent five weeks living in Rochester, Minn., near the Mayo Clinic. She was administered both radiation and chemotherapy, with the final treatment earlier this week. She is still vibrant and has her full head of dark hair. That might change with her next round of chemo, to begin soon, which will be strong dosages meant to shock the cancer cells.
She's missed only one Bison game this season, at Missouri State. She drove back to Fargo for home games and traveled to South Dakota.
"I'm trying to keep something normal in my life," Bridget said. "I don't want to be a cancer patient every day of the week. It's weird because when I come back to Fargo it's like I'm a visitor in my own home. I want normalcy. What is normal?"
Bridget has been with Houston Engineering for several months and "they've been great" as she's missed weeks of work, she said. That hasn't stopped some bills from mounting. A GoFundMe account has been set up in Bridget's name to help pay them. It is titled "Bridget's Battle with Cancer" and can be accessed here.
"We've never had to ask for anything in our lives, but you are humbled pretty quickly," Kevin said. "It's beautiful when people do things for you. We've seen some of our daughter's friends, young people with nothing in their bank accounts, give $10 or $20 just because they want to help."
Bridget and Kevin were among Miller's closest friends and spent days at his side as the longtime play-by-play voice of the Bison battled cancer. They were at his bedside in Miller's final days of palliative care when he died of complications from melanoma in February 2016.
Bridget recalls the conversations she had with Miller during his long cancer fight and, of course, better understands what he and other cancer patients endure.
"I remember talking with him about the radiation and chemo, but now I know more about what was going through his head," Bridget said. "He was in Frisco for the championship game in January, and he was gone six weeks later. Looking back with what I know now, for him to muster the energy to do what he did is amazing."
Bridget is taking the fight one treatment at a time, but she and Kevin do have something on the horizon they are looking toward. Their daughter Lindsey is getting married in July and the short-term goal is to get through that.
In the meantime, the Bison have upcoming playoff games where Bridget will be on the sideline holding the parabolic microphone.
"I just want to be around town, doing my normal things so I can feel what normal is again," Bridget said.