As senior captain Maya Oleynikova led her Inglemoor High girls soccer team onto the pitch last month against Bothell High, the Viking defender sported a shaved head.
With “VB” written in pink on their wrists, Oleynikova and her teammates stood strong to support their classmate, Vasi Barsan, who is battling metastatic liver cancer.
Inglemoor’s No. 5 is one of five Inglemoor students who have sheared their locks in a compassionate gesture for Barsan, a senior. The others are Jacob Liedle, Jesse Midgarden, Fernando Canal and Jakob Dick, according to Oleynikova.
“I’m very lucky,” said Barsan, who goes to chemotherapy once a week on Tuesdays and is at home in Bothell. “I have ups and downs, and the support that I’m getting goes beyond — it shows true friendship.”
He was nervous before getting his head shaved and feels fortunate that his friends have stood by his side in more ways than one. “Next thing you know, they’re doing it with me,” he said.
Oleynikova said that when her friend group, all of whom met Barsan when they attended Moorlands Elementary together, discussed shaving their heads, she was hesitant since she is the only girl in the coterie.
“When it came down to it, when we were all going to go to the hospital and visit him and get all of our heads shaved, I knew that this was something that I needed to do to support my friend,” said Oleynikova, who feels they’ve brightened his days with their support. She knows that he uplifts them each day.
Oleynikova can’t begin to imagine what her friend is going through.
“I’ve been hearing a lot recently, people telling me how brave I am. I say, ‘Sure, maybe I am brave, but doesn’t come even close to how brave Vasi is,” she said. The group visits Barsan once or twice a week at his home and they’re always staying in touch.
According to his GoFundMe page, Barsan — who turned 18 on Sept. 18 — complained of right-side pain during a family vacation in Romania prior to beginning his senior year at Inglemoor. “Unfortunately, the cancerous cells have spread forming innumerable masses in the liver and potentially spreading to other parts of his body,” the page reads.
Barsan inherited a genetic pre-disposition to cancer from his mother, according to school counselor Jennifer Orhuozee. His mother passed away from colon cancer 10 years ago, reads the GoFundMe page, and as a sophomore, he underwent a colectomy procedure, “which did not require chemotherapy or radiation as the polyps were determined to be pre-cancerous.”
Inglemoor girls soccer coach and mathematics instructor Kent Nelke is proud of his team for being a pillar of strength for Barsan.
“The fact that, as a team, they chose to bond together and support Vasi in this way was an amazing gesture. I had the privilege of teaching Vasi in pre-calculus last year and he is an incredible kid,” Nelke said.
Barsan’s older sister Esty — one of 14 siblings — said she’s thankful and “blown away” by all the support they’ve received from Vasi’s friends and the family’s friends.
“All the love we’ve gotten from everyone has been tremendous,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be able to go through it without the support of everyone.”
Oleynikova describes Barsan as a down-to-earth and humble guy who’s considerate and passionate with other people. Being around Barsan has made her more humble and she’s inspired by the way he carries himself.
She said everyone’s hoping and praying that their friend will be all right.
“Shaving our heads certainly won’t cure his cancer, but I’m hoping that it will just start the conversation about cancer and friendships and how you really need to treasure people that are close to you, because you never know what could happen,” Oleynikova said.
The GoFundMe page, which was started by Samy Grigoruta, is located at https://www.gofundme.com/f/vasi-barsan. At press time, $23,345 has been raised for Barsan’s medical expenses.