CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Jefferson and Cedar Rapids Xavier girls’ team traded their traditional school colors for something a little more meaningful Saturday.
The J-Hawks and Saints took the court for their tennis match, wearing pink shirts, in an attempt to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. The event, called “Volleying for Breast Cancer” featured the pink uniform tops, flowers given to players’ mothers and a donation to a local charity that holds a special place in Jefferson Coach Pam Towe’s heart.
Towe was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2009. She is on her way to beating the disease.
“I made it through and I’m here for another season,” said Towe, who owns an embroidery shop and made her girls’ shirts. “I hope to be here a lot longer.”
Xavier Coach Erin Seely, an assistant for Towe at Jefferson for about six years, jumped at the chance to arrange the benefit. The teams combined to raise more than $500, which was donated to Gems of Hope, a non-profit organization that offers gifts of jewelry mounted on inspirational cards to cancer patients.
“I haven’t had any family members affected by breast cancer. She was the first one,” Seely said. “I figured what a perfect opportunity to do something like this.”
J-Hawk senior Amy Ketelsen admitted she was aware of breast cancer but didn’t think about it. Last year changed all that.
“I knew it was there but I didn’t really see it affecting the people around me,” Ketelsen said. “Once she got it it was a real eye opener.”
Three discs hang from a chain around Towe’s neck. They are items from Gems of Hope that represent courage, faith and hope.
“They mean a lot to me,” Towe said. “I really wanted to do something for Gems of Hope.”
Towe’s battle with breast cancer began at the end of 2008, which ended with a biopsy on New Year’s Eve afternoon. She received results Jan. 2, 2009, informing her that she did have breast cancer. The news stunned Towe.
“I was so sure it was just still this density they were watching,” Towe said. “I was just blown away.”
Twelve days later Towe had surgery. Finding out and being faced with adversity felt like being in a twilight zone, according to Towe.
“It’s all so overwhelming,” she said. “Even now, when I talk about it I almost don’t feel like it’s me I’m talking about. I feel like I’m talking in the third person.”
She persevered radiation treatment, including sessions five days a week for seven weeks last March through last May, which happened to coincide with the 2009 tennis season. Towe didn’t miss a beat, continuing to coach while partaking in treatment, often leaving her exhausted at the end of the day. Three-hour recovery naps were needed.
“I went to radiation in the afternoon and right into coaching (tennis),” Towe said. “Then I went home and died on the couch, because I was so tired.”
Towe, set on being a positive example of handling adversity for her team, displayed resolve and toughness but her team identified the effects, which included blistering and burning, it had on their leader. She said the players helped distract her from her affliction and “their smiles” is what kept her going.
“She was emotionally strong,” Ketelsen said. “You could tell it was physically draining and it hurt to see her go through that pain, too.
The battles weren’t limited to cancer. At the end of last season and following treatment to stave off cancer, Towe suffered a heart attack, having another surgery, but this time having two stints placed in her heart. One more hurdle she cleared to work with kids again and share her love for tennis, which she describes as a lifelong sport.
“There’s a reason why God saved my life twice last year,” Towe said. “I think this is why. So I can keep doing stuff with these kids.”
Prognosis is good for the J-Hawks skipper, who has coached at Jefferson the last 15 years. She’s planning for many more also.
“I’m supposed to be cancer free as of last May,” said Towe, who turns 61 in May. “I’m on my way to be a breast cancer survivor and I plan to stay that way.”
The sport almost seemed secondary Saturday. Ketelsen said she was excited when heard about the special event.
“It meant more than just playing tennis,” Ketelsen said. “We’re doing it for a good cause.”
The entire Xavier squad participated and sold 100 shirts they made for the event. They also sported pink tie-dyed socks to go with the shirts. Seely, a Jefferson graduate, has emphasized getting involved with public service.
“They were excited about raising the funds,” Seely said. “We’re starting to do a lot in the community.”
The action, however, favored the Saints, who claimed a 7-2 victory, sweeping all three doubles matches. Elizabeth Hoffman, Laura Birky, Betsy Barry and Taylor O’Brien added singles wins for Xavier. Hoffman, who plays No. 1 singles, trailed Ketelsen for the first half of their match. Ketelsen owned a 4-3 lead, but Hoffman won two straight points to go up 5-4, leading the rest of the way to a 10-5 victory.
“We added somebody into the lineup,” Seely said about the team’s performance, “and we’re going to try it again to get them some more experience.”
Amy Ketelsen, Betsy Barry, breast cancer, Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Elizabeth Hoffman, Erin Seely, Gems of Hope, J-Hawks, Laura Birky, Pam Towe, Saints, Taylor O'Brien, Volleying for Breast Cancer