Tifton Gazette


April 24, 2014

Blue Devils host breast cancer awareness night, honor moms

TIFTON — “You’re cured.” Two simple words that can bring immeasurable relief to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Five young Tift County Blue Devil baseball players have found that two other words can bring solace when a loved one is suffering from cancer.  Those words?  “Play ball.”

This simple lesson was brought to the forefront when the Tift County High School Blue Devil baseball team hosted a breast cancer awareness night April 4. Breast cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in women in the United States. It was estimated in 2012 that there were 226,870 new invasive breast cancers and 39, 510 deaths from this disease (second only to lung cancer in causing death among women). One in every eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Blue Devil baseball team does not need a reminder as to how common breast cancer is among women. Five members of this year’s program have been directly impacted by this dreadful disease.  The mothers of two members of the team, Adam Spurlin (Cindy Spurlin) and Beau Kennedy (Melanie Kennedy) are currently battling the illness. Two other players’ moms, Zach Bullard (Cele Bullard) and JP McGahee (Rita  McGhee),  have successfully battled the disease in the past, and the fifth member, Blake Suggs’ grandmother Margaret Suggs, has fought breast cancer on two separate occasions and  uterine cancer on a third. She, like Bullard and McGahee, has been cancer free for more than five years.

And still, as if five teammates with families affected by breast cancer wasn’t sufficient to emphasize the need for finding a cure for this all too common illness, a sixth reminder stepped forward in the person of Ryan Stewart, a member of the Brunswick High School Pirates.  His mother, Mary Stewart, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October and is still undergoing treatment.  Her husband Chris says the doctors have given her “an excellent prognosis.”   

“They said she had a ‘mild’ form of the disease as if a form of cancer can be described as ‘mild,’” says Ryan. After learning of this common link with the Stewart family, the Blue Devil family quickly invited Ryan and his mother to join in the pre-game ceremony.  

“I would like to personally thank the fans, coaches and administrators who put all of that together,” says the younger Stewart. “It meant so much to my whole family.  That was probably the only time that I will ever catch a pitch from my mom on a baseball field and I truly cherish that experience. You guys didn’t have to let us join, but you let us participate without any hesitation.” Each of the mothers threw a pitch to their son as part of the opening ceremony.

 The night was made more special for Stewart, who hit a home run in his first at-bat in the second game. John and Jeremy Jones of Jones Construction Company, in conjunction with AA Concrete, placed a cement mixer truck which had been completely painted pink in the parking lot just outside of the left field fence of the Devil field as part of the ceremony.  

“My son told his mom he was going to put one out there by the truck for her,” says Chris Stewart, Ryan’s father. “He pointed to her as he rounded third base.  It is one of those moments that will be remembered by my wife and son forever.  It would not have happened without the kindness of your supporters.”

But all of the memories from the ceremonies were not happy ones as the Tift County team remembered the mother of a former Blue Devil player, Seth Mann, whose mother, Sheree Mann, lost her battle with this disease.  Her husband, Bill Mann, who was joined by several members of his family at the mound, threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game.

“This is a truly horrendous disease,” notes local surgeon Joel M. Johnson, “It can strike any age, any race and even either sex. Most breast cancers (80 percent) are diagnosed in women with no family history of cancer. The evidence shows there is no right or wrong way for women to identify a breast abnormality. Women know their breasts better than anyone else and do not have to be instructed in how to do this.  Most lumps are found during routine, daily activities such as bathing and dressing. Women should simply be aware of their breasts and promptly report any changes.”

Many people can sympathize with the victim of this disease and even his or her spouse. It is important not to forget the children whose parents are undergoing this life-threatening battle. Children of mothers who have breast cancer are likely to experience long-term psychological affects if not cared for properly according to several studies.  These affects can include fear, insecurity, anger, sadness, isolation and curiosity. The strongest of these is fear. Studies also show that adolescent children have more problems dealing with the reality of the disease than younger kids and that adolescent sons have the most trouble dealing with breast cancer of anyone in the family because they are usually given the least amount of affection and attention during this type of crisis according to Emily Thomas, the author of “How does breast cancer affect the children of the victims?”

“My mother had breast cancer in 2002,” notes JP McGahee.  “I was only four so I don’t remember very much about it at all.”

Zach Bullard’s memory is much fresher despite the fact that his mother, Cele, has been cancer free for more than five years. “My mother was diagnosed on Sept. 24, 2008,” Zach recalls.  “I put the date on my jersey for the ceremony.  I was in the seventh grade and it was caught early.  I remember that it was in the offseason for baseball and that I was very upset. But we had a lot of friends and family support.  I was playing basketball and that helped to take my mind off of it a great deal.”  

Zach understands that the disease may come back but this is a possibility that he refuses to dwell upon. “I just don’t think about that,” he says.

Adam Spurlin and Beau Kennedy can’t refuse to think about this illness just yet. Both of their mothers are in the midst of their battles with breast cancer. Cindy Spurlin has completed her regiment of chemotherapy and radiation and has recently undergone surgery to remove the mass.  “All of the doctors are very optimistic,” says Cindy.  “I’m determined to win this battle.”

But both Cindy and Melanie know, like the other mothers, that it has been tough on their families, especially their children.  

“It hit my father really hard,” recalls Adam. “My mother was diagnosed in late September.  It was very emotional for all of us.  I didn’t feel like talking about it.  I wondered how this could happen to my mother. She is very athletic and energetic and health conscious.” This is a sentiment expressed by all.

“My sister cried a lot when we first learned about the diagnosis,” recalls Beau.  “I didn’t want to get emotional.  I didn’t want a pity party.”  Beau’s mother Melanie learned about a month before the end of the junior varsity season this year that she needed to undergo further treatment.

“My parents found out about a month before the end of the JV season,” Beau said. “They waited two weeks before they told me.  But I haven’t missed but one practice all season because of my mother’s sickness. Still, this recent news makes you ask just how much more bad news she can take.”

Each of the players credits their participation in the baseball program and other athletic programs as being therapeutic.

“When I first learned about my Mom’s diagnosis, I was pretty upset,” says Ryan Stewart.  I couldn’t function the first few days.  This was during the offseason but we were having workouts three times a week.  I missed the first one when we were first told but I quickly learned that I needed to be there.  Being around my best friends, basically my other family, was the only place I could get my mind off of it and really relax, if only for a half an hour.”

“My other family” is how young Stewart describes his baseball teammates, a sentiment echoed by all of the Tift players.  

“I played a lot of travel ball,” says Kennedy, “and I had teammates from my travel ball teams on about every team in the region. I was asked about my mom at every game we played.”  

 The Blue Devils replaced their normal blue hats with white trim with new ones trimmed in pink for this special game.  Hats were also sold at the game to raise funds for the local cancer organization.


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