On July 10, their oldest daughter’s fifth birthday, Brice and Margot Udelhoven made a trip to the doctor. The biopsy results returned eight days later — Brice had rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of cells that, under normal circumstances, develop into skeletal muscle tissue. By the time they caught the disease, the pelvic tumor where the cancer originated had metastasized to lymph nodes and both lungs.
Every Thursday, the couple travels to Iowa City for outpatient chemotherapy treatments. Twice a month, Brice spends two to five nights in Iowa City under the watchful eye of Dr. Mohammed Milhem — Dr. Mo, as the couple calls him, one of the 40 rhabdomyosarcoma specialists in the world — to receive more intensive rounds of treatment.
“It’s a very aggressive form of cancer, so we have to treat it very aggressively,” Margot said. “The doctors explained to us that it’s like a weed. They have to pull the root out to get all of it.”
Brice has already endured five rounds of chemo and is scheduled for 10 more. In December, Dr. Mo and his team plan to operate on the cells that remain after treatment.
On top of the hospital visits, the Udelhovens are also raising three children: Mylee, five, who just started kindergarten; Blaine, 15 months; and Maelynn, 3 months. In May, Brice started a new job that allowed Margot to stay at home with their children. He worked 417 of the 500 hours required to qualify for the employer’s health insurance benefits before he received his diagnosis.
That’s when Jodi Johnson, a long-time friend of Margot’s and a founding member of the Iowa Barrel Burners, stepped in.
“Knowing that I had the crew, I talked to them about it, and they agreed to help out. We’ve done Race for the Cure in the past. This was something we knew how to do, and for us, it was easy to organize and plan,” Johnson said.
On Sept. 8 at the Maxwell Rodeo Arena, the Iowa Barrel Burners will use what Johnson jokingly describes as a very fun but very expensive hobby to raise funds to help foot Brice’s medical bills.
“She contacted me and said that she wanted to help, and she just ran with it. I’ve been fine with that,” Margo said.
A barrel race benefit is an ideal way for the equestrian community to support the Udelhovens, who share their love of horses. Margot grew up riding and coaxed Brice into the pursuit after he traded the hobby of racing cars for having a family. At one point, Brice even surprised Margot by finding the horse she rode as a child, a buckskin named Angel, and purchasing it for her.
Since she originally formulated the idea, Johnson has been working tirelessly to make the four-division open barrel race happen. She’s reached out to sponsors, including Fore Seasons Golf Course and Lucky R Equine Therapy, to help the Iowa Barrel Burners include a $500 jackpot for the winners in the open. Hawkeye Tack and Western Wear in Des Moines and Shannon Robertson have donated halters as prizes for fastest times.
Johnson explained that a four-division open allows barrel racers of all levels to run competitively in their class. Any rider can compete for $25 if they show up ready to ride with a horse and western tack. The event will also include a youth class that costs $15 per rider.
“We have a few expenses that we have to cover to put on the event and the rest of the money will go to the family. A lot of times in a situation like this, when somebody wins money in the jackpot, they’ll donate some, if not all, of their winnings to the family. Warmups also cost some money, and the money from those will be pure profit for the family.”
Community members have volunteered to run a concession stand where they will take donations. All proceeds from treats and T-shirt sales will also go directly to the Udelhovens.
“I might have started the ball rolling, but it’s taken a lot of people to make this happen,” Johnson said.
Margot, who has been fielding questions from friends who contact the family to see how they can help, hopes that Brice will be able to attend the race and see the outpouring of community support.
“We are very hopeful that his levels keep bouncing back and he is able to attend. We just take it one day at a time.”
If you can’t make it to the Maxwell Rodeo Arena on Sept. 8 to watch riders swivel their horses through the course and support the Udelhovens, mark your calendar for the night of Oct. 20 for a dinner, auction and dance benefit night at the Iowa Speedway.
Contact Phoebe Marie Brannock at 641-792-3121 ext. 6547 or firstname.lastname@example.org