2017-01-19 / Front Page

Game To Aid Oncology Patients Next Tuesday

Saints and Trojans Compete in Hooping for a Cure
By Kevin R. Hess

The 9th annual Hooping for a Cure “Pink Game” will take place Tuesday, January 24, between the St. Ignace Saints and the Cedarville Trojans. This event has impacted the lives of local cancer patients through the Oncology Department at Mackinac Straits Health System (MSHS). Since the inaugural event in 2009, the community has contributed more than $120,000 to help purchase new infusion chairs, blanket warmers, motorized exam tables, and to defray the cost for patients who require additional treatment outside of the area.

Proceeds from this year’s game will aid a program called No Cancer Patient is Left Behind. Through it, the Mackinac Straits Health Foundation helps patients who must travel for treatment, assisting with gas, meals, and lodging. Mike Grisdale, marketing and foundation director with the hospital, said that the success of this event is made possible by the great support from so many residents and local businesses.

Dr. Ed Smith and Dr. Amy Bolmer coordinate care through the Oncology Department. Dr. Smith has been involved with Hooping For a Cure from the onset, while Dr. Bolmer joined the event last year. Dr. Smith, M.D., is board certified in oncology, hematology, and internal medicine. He sees patients in St. Ignace, Newberry, and Sault Ste. Marie. Dr. Bolmer is a board certified oncologist and sees patients in St. Ignace and the Rivertown Medical Clinic in Cheboygan.

What makes this event so special, Dr. Smith said, is that the funds stay local.

“One hundred percent of the money is used for local people, the people [with whom] you live, work, play and worship,” he says. “The money we raise helps people with the cost of transportation, lodging, and food when they need to receive care, testing, and second opinions that are not available locally. In some situations, our effort even helps people drive to St. Ignace.”

Dr. Bolmer adds, “This event helps us offer patients that are eligible, an opportunity to travel for clinical trials utilizing ‘cutting edge’ therapies that are not yet offered through MSHS.”

Dr. Smith also believes that it is the teamwork of a community that helps battle cancer.

“I think it is a good take on the saying of ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ It takes a whole [community] to battle cancer. It isn’t just a patient, their family, and their physicians battling cancer,” he said. “Cancer not only affects these people, but their friends and neighbors who end up helping with transportation, preparing meals, lawn-care, snowblowing, and childcare, among many others.”

Another benefit of the event is that it brings awareness to people about how many people are battling cancer. Dr. Smith says awareness is invaluable.

“I think most people who participate in Hooping For a Cure…will see a relative, friend, old classmate from school, a clerk from a local merchant, a friend of their parents or children, or a coworker who they may or may not have known had cancer.”

Dr. Bolmer said the benefit game “has great energy, providing a fun atmosphere that helps energize the caregivers, the patients’ families, and our staff.”

For seven years of the event, the St. Ignace girls hosted Cheboygan. This will be the second year that the Saints will host the Cedarville Trojans.

The idea for the game originated in 2008 when Kathy Marshall, an administrative assistant at St. Ignace Elementary and Middle School, attended a similar fundraiser at a high school football game in Lowell with her sister, Karen Fowler.

“We brought the idea back to Doug and Dorene (Ingalls) about doing one with the basketball team. They loved the idea and it just took off from there,” said Mrs. Marshall.

Mrs. Marshall and Mrs. Fowler, along with Coach Dorene Ingalls, formed a committee and began planning the event. The first year coincided with the opening of the Oncology wing at Mackinac Straits Health System. Each year has seen the event increase in participants and donations. For the past few months, the current committee has been meeting weekly to lay the groundwork for this year’s event, delegate responsibilities, and promote the Pink Game.

Coach Ingalls was excited about the idea and the impact it could have locally. She lost her mother to brain cancer and has seen many friends battle it.

“Cancer affects so many people. We wanted to focus on our local community and patients. Everyone has their own battle. We want people to know that they are not alone,” she said.

The Pink Game is more than just a game to those who participate in it.

“It’s not about basketball, but about two communities coming together. [The cause] is very close to our hearts. It’s a badge of honor to be a part of it,” says Coach Ingalls.

The impact of the game goes far beyond the game itself. In the past several years, the St. Ignace girls basketball players have had the opportunity to play at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University and compete for a state title. During those trips, Coach Ingalls has arranged to take the team to the local hospital to visit with patients and families and see the impact cancer has on so many.

“It’s not that being a teenager isn’t hard, but this expands their life perspective. It has even caused some to want to volunteer more or go into the medical field as a career,” she said.

Sarah Smith, a 2015 graduate of LaSalle High School, played in four Pink Games. Her first game came months after her father passed away from leukemia.

“I remember lining up with all the sponsors and having trouble holding back tears as I was playing in memory of my dad for the first time,” she said. “That experience made the Pink Game very special for me. I now had a personal connection every time I played in the game.”

Throughout her four years of high school, other family members and friends were diagnosed with cancer and added to the list of those she played to honor, alongside her father. Each year, Miss Smith said, her appreciation for the meaning of the game grew deeper.

“We played with the names of our loved ones on our backs and it gave a new sense of purpose to this special game. On that night, we weren’t just playing for ourselves, but for those who fought a much bigger battle,” she said.

After seeing her father and other loved ones cope with cancer, Miss Smith began to show an interest in learning about the disease. It began as an attempt to better understand the causes and effects of cancer, but it turned into a career decision. She is now a pre-med student at Concordia University in Chicago, studying pediatric oncology.

“I felt as though this was all part of a larger plan, that my calling in life was to help those who suffer from the disease and maybe one day be a part of putting a stop to it,” she said.

For her, the Pink Game was instrumental in forging her future career path.

“Without the experience of the Pink Game, and touring places with my team, my life may not have followed this path. I’m thankful that it did. Through my experiences, I’ve developed a passion for something greater than myself,” she said.

One of the hardest parts of the whole experience, said Coach Ingalls, is seeing people succumb to cancer.

“I’ve personally had friends battle cancer, and have had to watch some of them pass, including some who were guest speakers during one of the events,” says Coach Ingalls.

The team and community are resolved to continue to support the cause.

“This is a very personal cause for many, and people are eager to get involved,” said the coach.

Hooping for a Cure raises money in a variety of ways. They sell specially designed T-shirts each year. The shirts can be ordered at First National Bank, U.P. State Credit Union, or the Locker Room in downtown St. Ignace. Businesses can buy advertisements in the printed program. Families and businesses can be jersey sponsors for the players. Families can be listed in the game program to honor or remember a loved one. The night of the event features a 50/50 drawing and multiple raffles. Prizes include an overnight golf outing at Grand Hotel, a Mackinac Bridge Tower Tour, Detroit Tigers tickets, a year’s supply of BC Pizza, St. Ignace Golf Club membership, and a Saints Athletic Season pass. Anyone interested in sponsorships may contact Mr. Grisdale at (906) 643-0443 for more information.

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