GENTRY -- Kristin Ferguson had never pitched a softball. She walked alone across the field and into the white chalk circle around the pitching rubber. In her right hand, she held a bright yellow softball.
She was admittedly nervous because she did not have time to practice before she walked on the field Tuesday afternoon (April 3). Ferguson just wanted the ball to reach its destination without first hitting the ground.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of breast cancer vary from person to person. Some common breast cancer signs and symptoms include:
• Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts
• An increase in size or change in shape of the breast(s)
• Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
• Nipple discharge other than breast milk
• General pain in/on any part of the breast
• Lumps or nodes felt on or inside of the breast
Symptoms more specific to invasive breast cancer are as follows:
• Irritated or itchy breasts
• Change in breast color
• Increase in breast size or shape (over a short period of time)
• Changes in touch (may feel hard, tender or warm)
• Peeling or flaking of the nipple skin
• A breast lump or thickening
• Redness or pitting of the breast skin (like the skin of an orange)
"I found out we were doing this a couple of weeks ago," she said. "I haven't really had time to get ready for it."
She peered in at the catcher, a familiar face behind a steel mask, and let it fly.
Kristin Ferguson has faced far more daunting odds than tossing a softball 40 feet. Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33.
A little more than a year after multiple surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, on a windy, cold spring day, she stood in the middle of a softball field by herself, but she was surrounded by more than 40 high school softball players, coaches and managers in a game dubbed "No One Fights Alone."
When her pitch crossed home plate and smacked into the catchers' mitt, she smiled. A few seconds later she embraced the catcher, her daughter Taylor Norman.
"Taylor told me to practice while I was at work," Kristen said after the ceremony. "But I work at a desk all day so I couldn't practice. I was a little worried about it. I was just hoping I could get it there."
A high school softball game was the reason teams from Gentry and Greenland came together on this day, but the game itself was secondary to the cause, which was to heighten breast cancer awareness. Each player, coach and manager on both teams played in honor of -- or, in some cases, in memory of -- a person who has been affected by breast cancer.
Gentry won both games of Tuesday's doubleheader, taking game one, 6-0, and completing the sweep with a 17-2 win in the second game.
Three cancer survivors threw out ceremonial first pitches prior to the game. Gentry English teacher Alishia Ramsey and Greenland counselor Mary Larkan also stepped into the pitching circle and fired strikes.
Alexis Droddy, a Gentry senior, played in Ramsey's honor.
"She's like one of us," Droddy said. "We can talk to her about anything."
Prior to the ceremonial first pitches, Gentry softball coach Paul Ernest, who organized the event, gave some eye-opening statistics related to breast cancer. One in eight women in the United States will experience breast cancer in her lifetime. As women age, the risk becomes higher. Ferguson's case proves that cancer does not discriminate when it comes to age.
Madison Fontenot is a senior at Greenland who has seen the effects of breast cancer through both friends and family. Her former teammate, Ashlyn Stout, lost her mother, Lisa Stout, to breast cancer several years ago. Madison dedicated Tuesday's game to Lisa Stout.
Fontenot's sister and great-grandmother also battled the disease. She knows that cancer is often genetic.
"I'm a pretty strong contender for it due to my history of it in my family," she said. "It's really made my family more aware of it. They've been through it and they don't want me to have to go through it. Nobody wants to go through breast cancer.
"Just to hear the statistics that one in eight women will get breast cancer, it sends chills down my body."
Taylor Norman was in the seventh grade when Kristin got the call a few weeks after a routine mammogram. Kristin had gone through a couple of previous bouts with other forms of cancer, but nothing could prepare them for what was to come after the breast-cancer diagnosis.
"I really didn't understand it at the moment she told me," Taylor said. "I was shocked. I couldn't even cry. My dad had to come in later and explain everything to me. So I just broke down because it hurt so bad."
Kristin said her treatments began about three weeks after the cancer was diagnosed. The first chemotherapy treatment lasted about 10 hours and included two different kinds of chemo. Regular treatments were administered every other week for four and a half months, she said.
In addition to the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Kristin had multiple surgeries, including a mastectomy and reconstruction. One of the last surgical procedures took about 12 hours, Taylor said. She said she and her father, Jeremy Ferguson, leaned on each other for strength and support.
Prior to the cancer diagnosis and treatment, Taylor said her mom was always raring to go and spent a lot of time playing with her and her younger brother.
"She acted a whole lot different," Taylor said. "She used to act a whole lot happier but, ever since she's had this chemo, she's been down. She wasn't able to have as much fun on family trips. She had to sleep a lot and have a lot of rest. She wasn't able to act like her normal self and it really hit me and my dad. We just all tried to cope with her and make sure everything was OK."
Kristin said there were days that just getting out of bed seemed almost impossible. She continued to work full time, taking off for three days in the weeks she would get her treatments. She said she forced herself to keep going because "I knew my children needed their mom."
A year after her last treatment, she still suffers from the effects that breast cancer and its aggressive treatments took on her body.
"I wake up every day tired," she said. "My doctor told me that my immune system will probably be in shock the rest of my life."
Taylor said there were many dark days when she feared she might lose her mom to the disease. Kristin's fight and determination proved to be an inspiration to her daughter.
"There were times that she was really afraid because she did not want to leave me and my brother and my dad alone without a mom or a wife. It really scared her," Taylor said. "The way she fought just made me realize how strong she is and how I want to grow up and be like her. She's my role model."
After Tuesday's game, the two teams gathered for a group picture. Special pink and white jerseys were used in the game and the players were given markers to get as many autographs as they could from players and the cancer survivors who were at the game. The Silvey-Welch team of Crye-Leike sponsored the breast-cancer awareness game and purchased jerseys for both teams to wear during the doubleheader.
Fontenot, who had a hit in the first game, said she planned on putting her jersey in a shadow box as a keepsake reminder and more deeper meaning of the game besides who won and who lost.
"Yes, the game is kind of secondary," Fontenot said. "But our mentality is to play your hardest for the person you are representing. Give it your all because the person you are playing for today gave it her all. It's not about us today, it's about them."
Sports on 04/11/2018
Print Headline: All For One Cause