As the son of a breast cancer survivor, only part of me could relate to how Eric Cassidy must have felt.
Cassidy lost his mother Deborah Sheehan in October 2011 after a short battle with the deadly disease.
She was just 48 years old.
Like many parent-child relationships, Cassidy and his mother were tied together by a special bond — basketball.
Cassidy, now in his fifth-year as boys’ basketball coach at Schalick High School, was standout player at Gloucester City, where he was a 1,000-point scorer before graduating in 2002. He went on to play collegiate hoops at Division-III Keystone in Scranton, Pa. Through it all, Cassidy recalled his mother being his No. 1 fan as she attended as many games as possible.
I imagine there is no way to completely fill the void left behind when you lose your mother to such tragic circumstances, but Cassidy is getting by the best way he knows how, just like many other are forced to do.
Last season, he could be seen wearing a pink ribbon pin every game on his forest green Schalick coaching shirt. He still wears it, but this year Cassidy took matters a step further by organizing a five-game fundraiser showcase at Schalick this past weekend that benefited The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
The foundation was formed in 1993 by ESPN and Jim Valvano, who won a national championship in 1983 as coach of the North Carolina State basketball team. Valvano, much like Cassidy’s mother, was diagnosed with cancer and lost his battle within a year at the age of 47. Before he died, Valvano pledged to devote his remaining days to funding cancer research.
You would be hard-pressed to find a sports fan who is not familiar with the line from the popular speech given by Valvano during the 1993 ESPY Awards in which he recites “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
Between games on Saturday, recorded clips from Valvano’s speech could be heard echoing throughout a packed Schalick gymnasium.
There is no way to measure the toughness of these brave men and women as they attempt to cope with the physical and mental hardships that come along with cancer. In 2009, the American Cancer Society estimated more than 12.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer in the United States.
The chances that you know someone, or are even related to someone who is currently battling or has died from cancer seem astronomical these days.
Sacred Heart coach Kevin Nash, whose Lions competed at the showcase on Saturday, likened cancer’s impact on a person to the theory of six degrees of separation, in which it is argued that a person is linked to someone else by no more than five acquaintances. In Nash’s case, Saturday’s event hit even closer to home as he lost his father to lung cancer in 2007.
But not surprisingly, there was no tear shed over the weekend at Schalick.
As often times is the case, those in mourning turn to sports as an outlet for their grieving. My mom was a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder for some time and football is very much something that ties us together today. It is something that will stay with us forever.
Before, during and after Sacred Heart’s loss to Haddonfield, Nash could readily be seen enjoying the atmosphere. As for Cassidy, whose Cougars opened the showcase with a 60-56 win over Highland, it may have been impossible to wipe the smile off his face.
It was an event he called “emotionally rewarding.”
The final tally of how much money the showcase raised for The V Foundation was ongoing as of Tuesday, but the event will be remembered as a success regardless. Plans are already in the works for next year’s showcase, which promises to be even bigger.
Since its inception, The V Foundation has donated more than $100 million to over 100 facilities across the country for cancer research. Saturday was just the start for Cassidy, who made a promise to himself to honor his mother’s life by helping anyway possible to find a cure for cancer.
Much like Valvano, it’s a pledge that Cassidy has no plans of giving up on.