by Samantha Schwear
Joel Barlow High School, Redding, CT
We sat on her bed with pained smiles. As my grandmother fought her mounting exhaustion, my cousin and I fought to keep her awake. We discussed family recipes, we reminisced about games of hide and seek in her shop, and we promised to keep all the Schwear traditions alive. Though I felt myself fighting tears the entire time, it was a perfect night. It was also the last night I would ever spend with my grandmother. She passed away in 2011 after a fifteen-year battle with breast cancer. And though she lived states away, she has had a great influence on the person I am today. Though I will always regret not telling her how important she was – and still is to me – I feel the Side-Out Foundation and Dig Pink have given me the opportunity to honor her memory.
When I made varsity my sophomore year, I took the initiative to build on this tradition at my high school. I spoke with my volleyball coach, and he encouraged me to take the lead with this program. For the past three years, Dig Pink has been a huge success at Joel Barlow High School. Each year, during the month of October, I invite the opposing team to participate. I work with the local and school newspaper authoring articles. Announcements are made each day and my team creates posters to spread the word. For the past two years, I’ve also organized a raffle and encouraged parents to donate “pink” baked goods to raise more funds. On the day of the event, we transform the gym into a sea of pink. Balloons, streamers, and ribbons in all shades of pink cover the walls, doors, and bleachers. Our team wears pink uniforms and we even play with a pink ball. I also organize the team’s personal dedications, so each player can dedicate her game to someone affected by this disease.
It is clear the entire community rallies behind this cause – it is our most popular game, as we fill the bleachers. Everyone (men included) come dressed in pink. In the past four years, we have raised almost four thousand dollars for the Side-Out Foundation – which was only possible with the support of the Redding-Easton community. Our team’s photographer was so moved by the event, as her family has been greatly affected by this disease, that she offered to create a photomontage of the game. And it was touching when the coach from the opposing team made a very generous donation, which she collected from her players. Even the company I used to produce a Dig Pink T-Shirt donated to the cause. But what was most rewarding throughout this experience is the knowledge I have gained. This year, I invited a women’s physician to come speak to the team about health and the importance of self-exams and regular doctor’s visits. She stressed just how common this disease is, which sparked conversations later at home. A conversation, that ultimately may have saved someone’s life. I was so inspired by her presentation that I created one of my own for my health class, where I discussed the risk factors, preventative measures, and treatments of breast cancer.
“It is clear the entire community rallies behind this cause – it is our most popular game, as we fill the bleachers.”
Though I have personally organized this event for the past three years, I’ve had multiple teammates ask me to take over once I graduate. I am now confident the Dig Pink tradition will live on. And I hope the knowledge I have shared with them will be passed on as well. I also look forward to beginning this tradition at the university I attend in the fall, and sharing the knowledge I have gained with my future peers and professors.
Ultimately, this experience has given me the opportunity to honor my grandmother, as well as many others who have been affected by breast cancer. I could not think of a better way to honor her memory, as well as offer my community the knowledge necessary to protect themselves against this disease. Dig Pink and the Side-Out Foundation have encouraged me to become the advocate I am today, and I could not be more thankful.