As it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought I’d do a piece about how your teammates can help you get through one of the most difficult and challenging times in a women’s life. For me, when my sister was diagnosed at the age of only 24, I had my rugby team to help support me through listening to my fears and worries, coming out to her benefit, and just being there to listen to me as well as share how they dealt with family members who were diagnosed. While at a tournament in Louisville I bought a t-shirt with pink lettering and a pink ribbon on the arm. I didn’t know until recently that the woman who the shirt was made to support now lives in Chicago and supports a local team and that she in fact would be the person who would come forward when I asked the female rugby community if anyone wanted to talk about their fight against breast cancer.
Lavender Kelly started playing rugby while in college. She loved the sport, the community and continued to play for nearly 20 years all while maintaining her health. Lavender was first diagnosed with cervical cancer when she was just 19. At the time her friends could not fully support her in the way that she needs them to because as a young woman it can be extremely scary and a hard thing to deal with. She had surgery, chemo, and found that she had to come up with a lot of inner strength to fight her battle and win. She was cancer free, and continued her regular checks and screening to make sure she was in remission.
A decade later, while get a check up, she found out that she again had cancer, and this time it was in her breast. Again she found herself going through an emotional and difficult time, but one thing that was different is that she had her rugby family there to support her. Lavender explained that the ten year mark is such a huge thing to make being cancer free and to find out it was back was devastating. She said that she was lucky to have her cancer caught at stage 1, to not have lost her hair during radiation and that the women on her team, supported her. This support group made a huge difference from when she was younger with friends not really knowing how to handle the situation.
She told me, “They were there for me, and really helped me enjoy and live in the moment. They never all about the medical stuff, because they knew me Lavender, and they always stayed focused on me Lavender not poor Lavender the cancer patient.”
“Breast cancer “ she added, “can really make you question what it means to be a woman that you otherwise would never have to ask yourself. Since breasts are something we associate so much with our femininity and to have something be wrong make you think that there is something wrong with you. In rugby you are already pushing those boundaries and becoming more confident with yourself as a person and that helped so much in my fight, to look at me as a person and not at myself as my body parts.”
Rugby definitely helps women become more confident and strong as who they are. Lavender said that’s one of the things she’s always loved about women’s rugby is that it’s not who you are, what you do or your position, your teammates know the real you. Her team came together to support her though selling shirts, and donating all the proceeds to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The team didn’t just sell the shirt during her bout with cancer but continue to sell the shirt and help raise awareness.
On her one year mark being cancer free, Lavender decided to shave her head because even though she never lost her hair, she knows what a difficult thing it is for many women. I know that when my sister first lost her hair because to radiation I stayed up on the phone with her all night as she cried because my sister felt, that’s when people know you are sick and can really tell something is wrong.
Lavender not only relied on her rugby team, but also talked with other cancer support groups to help her get through her bouts. She played rugby for nearly 20 years anc continues to support the community that helped support her. Many teams put on tournaments to support the fight against cancer, teams wear pink jerseys during October, and it just another showing that no matter where you go, someone has been effected by this disease.