On Wednesday night at Lakeview High School, the Spartan volleyball team embarked on the ‘first serve’ of its annual ‘Dig Pink’ campaign.
Now in its eighth year at the school, the ‘Dig Pink’ initiative is part of the Side-Out Foundation, which aims to offer support as well as raise funds for breast cancer research.
Lakeview players were clad in pink uniforms as they took on Class A honorable mention Mattawan in an important Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East Division contest. But more important was the cause they were playing for.
“There are more than a handful of players with somebody in their family who has had breast cancer,” said Lakeview coach Heather Sawyer. “The first person I met who had breast cancer was a man – so breast cancer affects men too.”
The Spartans will continue to raise awareness as well as funds for breast cancer research when they host the SMAC Tournament on Oct. 29. The entire conference plans to wear pink and honor survivors as well as those who succumbed to breast cancer. Donations can be made online at giving.side-out.org.
For Sawyer, even saying the word ‘cancer’ is difficult. Like so many, she herself has experienced it first-hand.
Last August, the 15-year head coach for the Spartans noticed lumps on her neck. A biopsy and blood results came back inconclusive before it was determined she had low grade thyroid cancer.
“In all honesty, it really made me mad. I just don’t have time for this,” Sawyer said. “We all are so wrapped up in our life that we just don’t have time to be sick. Yet your body is telling you, ‘You are sick.'”
After six months, medication was not working as the lumps grew bigger in size. So in March, Sawyer’s doctor’s removed the gland.
“Now looking back, it was affecting me. Not just the physical, but having the energy to get through my day and the outlook on life,” Sawyer said. “Last year I really didn’t tell the team until 2/3 of the way through the season. I had to let them know that I wasn’t 100 percent and they probably noticed. I wasn’t going to be there for energy in practice and tournaments – instead of relying on their coach, they were going to have to rely on each other.”
Although not yet completely out of the woods, Sawyer had her six-month checkup on Tuesday and said, ‘So far, so good… No ugly ‘C’ cells floating around anywhere!”
Sawyer added the the last five or six weeks have been the best she’s felt in a long time, and the experience has been life-changing.
“I would say in the past year, I have learned to live and be normal,” she said. “If you are on the outside looking in, you may not see that. But I have really changed some things and I’m taking more time for myself. We as coaches and teachers, so much of what we do is who we are. So this past summer I made a point of gearing down and not having myself scheduled to the tilt… If you don’t force yourself to gear down, it catches up with you.”
Nick Buckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter:@NickJBuckley