As a 20-year-old center on the College of Charleston women's basketball team, I -- like most young adults my age -- thought cancer was something that only affects other people. Not me, not my loved ones.
But when a close friend was stricken with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia), all of that changed. I've come to realize that cancer is a disease blind to discrimination, age, ethnicity or kindheartedness.
Here in Charleston, S.C., my teammates and I are fighting back. Through basketball, we are trying to make a difference.
It started with a moment of kindness...
My family had just moved -- at possibly the worst time for a teenage girl: freshman year of high school. We moved to Sumter, a small city in South Carolina surrounded by state parks in an area known as the "Carolina Backcountry." It's a place where people still say "y'all" -- equal parts known for its historic homes, high crime rate and Southern Hospitality. I was 14 years old and suddenly I was the new kid in town. Like most kids forced to move during those tumultuous adolescent years, I'd already written off my new home.
Not only was I the new kid, I was the really tall kid (I'm 6"5'). Looming above my classmates amidst a sea of teenage anxieties, I faced the cliché of trying to find a seat; I longed for just one friendly face.
A genuine girl named Alex, with a caring demeanor and a big smile, invited me to sit with her. This singular act of kindness -- so rare amongst kids of that age and so seemingly inconsequential at the time -- began the start of a great friendship.
Through Alex, I met her mother Tammy, whom I affectionately call "Momma W." Tammy opened not only her home but also her heart to me, becoming like my second mother -- comforting me when I needed comfort, crying with me when I needed a shoulder, loving me when already she spent so much time showing the same love and devotion for her own family.
High school came and went and I left Sumter to play basketball for the College of Charleston, majoring in education, while Alex went to Clemson University to study nursing. Although we went to opposite corners of the state, we remained best friends and always kept in close contact.
Three years later, abruptly and violently, all of those comforts were ripped away, leaving all of us feeling a sense of acute, blinding despair. A routine analysis of Tammy's blood work had shown some signs for concern, Alex had told me on the phone a week before, but said it was "probably nothing."
I remember the phone call: Alex phoned me with the results and after a few moments of silence on the other end of the line; I knew with dreaded certainty what the diagnosis was.
Afterwards I broke down to Natasha Adair, my head basketball coach at the College, telling her Tammy had been diagnosed with AML and of the heavy toll it was taking on their family and friends. I was distraught and unable to be there physically to support them as Tammy started chemotherapy.
Amidst our desperation, my coach planted the seeds for an idea -- a basketball game for Tammy -- seeds which since that time have sprouted, growing bigger and bigger. What started out as a way to try to shower an incredibly special woman with a portion of the love she has given to me over the years, has grown into something much larger.
Now a junior on the women's basketball team, and with the full support of my coach and my teammates, we decided to hold a game in honor of Tammy's fight and to try to help educate our fan base on the importance of being bone marrow donors.
One day during the early stages of the planning process, a former coach told me about Press On, an organization dedicated to the pursuit of a cure for diseases like AML.
By working with Press On I discovered the importance of bone marrow transplants and how vital being on the registry is to saving lives. I soon contacted Be the Match, another organization in the fight against cancer, whose primary goal is to provide people the opportunity to be on the bone marrow registry.
Through the wonderful support of friends, family, coaches, teammates and school administrators, the donation game was put together. One day, during the process of finalizing plans for both the game and a campus bone marrow drive, I got another phone call: This one was to tell me that after four months in the hospital and three rounds of intense chemotherapy, Tammy's cancer was in remission!
I was overjoyed and felt peace for the first time in months. All of our prayers had been answered.
The battle against leukemia, however -- Tammy's included -- is not yet over. I've come to realize through this journey that there are countless stories like Tammy's and the game on January 23rd, which was a great success, was in honor of that fight.
Later this month, the fight continues as we are holding a bone marrow drive on campus at the College on Tuesday, February, 11.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of the school, coaches, and team. Inadvertently, they have showered Tammy and her family and I with the same love and kindness that drove this effort in the first place. I don't know how I can express how much the time, effort, and support given by my coaches and team means to me. We could not have done it alone, and neither should those who are suffering, directly or indirectly, from different forms of cancer.