Swing for Life: Events allow community to fight cancer together
Prep softball, baseball • Disease forever changes survivors, supporters.
Published: April 30, 2012 04:26PM
Updated: April 29, 2012 12:01AM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Jade Kennedy, 18, center, a former softball player with Pleasant Grove, keeps an eye on the game as an assistant coach alongside her boyfriend, Brett Stewart, 18, and best friend Stephanie Harris, 18. In support of her recent diagnosis with thyroid cancer, all of the players wore her former #20 as softball players from a number of schools took each other on at the Big Cottonwood Regional Park compex on Saturday, April 28, 2012, as part of Swing for Life, which raises money for breast cancer research.

Jade Kennedy is the type of person who stays out of the spotlight whenever possible. Her father, Tim Kennedy, says his 18-year-old daughter is mortified of drawing attention to herself.

So when it came time Saturday morning to step into line with other cancer survivors at the Swing For Life softball tournament, it might have been her toughest step of all.

It’s been less than a month since she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. And although her surgery was successful, and doctors have declared her cancer-free, the inch-long scar on her neck is a fresh reminder of the frightening disease that has plagued her family.

First it was her aunt, Angela Kirk, who died in December 2010. That was why the then-senior helped Pleasant Grove High School raise $1,000 for Swing For Life last year. She didn’t know exactly how to feel through her own ordeal, but on Saturday, she knew awareness could help people like her and her aunt.

“It was weird for me to say, ‘I’m a survivor,’ ” she said. “It feels like I’m not quite there, but I guess I am.”

Being a survivor implies the life-threatening challenge is over, that normalcy can begin. But even after cancer, life isn’t “normal” anymore.

It’s a big reason why Kathy Howa, softball coach at Rowland Hall, has kept the Swing For Life fundraiser going 10 years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The combined efforts of softball, volleyball and other sports teams across the country have raised more than $800,000, which has gone directly to the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and cancer research. It’s a weekend for celebration of life, with teams wearing pink socks, pink ribbons and pink jerseys. Sports is the perfect forum for paying tribute to the fighting spirit of those who have been pitted against cancer.

But even surviving can still be fight. Kennedy didn’t need chemotherapy, and her early detection helped her escape some of the more gripping horrors of the disease. But she still had to withdraw from school at Utah Valley University, and she had to take a step back from coaching at Pleasant Grove.

However, her sisters on the softball field — many of whom she played with and helped raise money at Swing For Life last season — never left her. The entire roster wore pink shirts with No. 20, Kennedy’s old number, on the back. This year, they’ve raised $3,000 for the fundraiser.