My Family's Battle Against Cancer

SAVANNAH TUCKER

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Each of us knows someone who’s been impacted by cancer.

It may be a neighbor, friend, relative, or as in my case, someone that I consider to be a second mom.

When my aunt Shelly was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago, it was a gut-punch like I’ve rarely felt before.

I’ve never had someone that close to me diagnosed with cancer before.

Witnessing someone I loved, who changed my diapers, took me to the playground, brought me to waterparks, and played such an integral role in my life, in so much pain, left me feeling absolutely helpless.

As I’ve gotten older, I realized that while I can’t directly cure the pain of cancer for Shelly and countless others, I can do something about spreading awareness.

In my fourth year now playing basketball at Long Beach State, I’ve been blessed with opportunities through NIL to give myself a following and platform to advocate for causes and events that are important to me.

There isn’t an event closer to my heart than the upcoming Play4Kay game on February 24 against Hawaii.

It’s so much more than a basketball game.

It’s a chance to raise money and bring awareness to all the brave women who are cancer survivors, warriors, and heroes.

That game is one of the many ways basketball has graced my life and given me opportunities to be a powerful advocate for women and the struggles we face beyond the hardwood.

Building a platform

To say I’m an upperclassman on the team this year is something I’m still getting used to.

Throughout my time at LBSU, I’ve primarily been the ‘young one’ on the team, so to find myself in a leadership position and being named one of the team captains is a big shift compared to my first three years here.

But I feel grateful to be in the position that I’m in because I had a great group of older teammates that paved the way for me.

For three years, I had the opportunity to sit back and watch them lead, as I took mental notes on what worked and what didn’t work.

I’ll always have endless gratitude for that because not every player has that luxury to sit back and observe. If you’re on a young team, you don’t really have a choice but to be thrown into the fire and lead — even if you don’t have the slightest clue how to do that.

I didn’t have to worry about that at LBSU because my older teammates took care of that for me.

They wrapped their arms around me and the rest of the younger players, which isn’t something I’ll ever forget.

Early on in my collegiate career, I also had the understanding that I wanted to be more than a basketball player.

As I mentioned earlier, in the world of NIL, we have such an advantage now in building our social status and brand.

I never expected to have almost 60,000 followers on Instagram – I think I came into college with around 2,000 or so – but I also worked hard at embracing the college experience by networking and expanding my circle beyond basketball.

It’s amazing how many people I’ve met at various social events and brand deal dinners, and that’s what I contribute to my digital presence more than anything.

I’ve been given a lot of great opportunities and built many different relationships that will undoubtedly benefit me once my playing career is over, so I couldn’t be more thankful to LBSU for giving me the platform and putting me in a position to be successful.

Never take health for granted

Anyone who knows me is aware of how much I’m in love with the color pink.

I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Why we only have one game a year where we wear pink for the Play4Kay game is beyond me. If every game could be a Play4Kay game and I could wear pink, I’d be over the moon.

But all kidding aside, the game represents so much more than my favorite color.

Honoring Coach Kay Yow’s heroic fight against cancer and her memory, the game is about unifying communities that go beyond competition.

Yes, we’re still going to do everything we can to win that game against Hawaii, but at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team when it comes to raising money and awareness to honor cancer survivors and their battles against that awful disease.

What I also love about the Play4Kay game is that it’s a reminder to not take our health for granted, which is something I think many of us are guilty of.

Since my aunt’s diagnosis, my mom has been very adamant about making sure I’m routinely going to checkups and not missing appointments, especially as I get older and the risks for cancer increase.

As a student-athlete, I think it’s easy to almost feel invincible being in great shape with strong health, but all it takes is one scan for that to change, so you can just never be too safe.

The “inconvenience” of a doctor’s visit may just end up saving your life, so that’s something I’m always going to be cognizant of and prioritize and encourage others to do the same.

It's amazing how many people I've met at various social events and brand deal dinners, and that's what I contribute to my digital presence more than anything. I've been given a lot of great opportunities and built many different relationships that will undoubtedly benefit me once my playing career is over, so I couldn't be more thankful to LBSU for giving me the platform and putting me in a position to be successful.

Inspiration and purpose

Needless to say, after seeing what my aunt Shelly went through with chemo and how positive she was through that entire process, she’s one of my biggest inspirations.

Even when she decided to cut her hair and was going through so much pain day after day, that smile never left her face.

On her worst day, she always remained positive and continued to fight, which tells you everything you need to know about what kind of person she is.

To further illustrate who Shelly is, she beat breast cancer and is now cancer-free, which is a blessing in every way imaginable, but she continues to bring awareness on her media platforms.

To see her happy, healthy, and being a powerful advocate for cancer awareness brings me so much joy. Trust me when I tell you she’s living her best life today.

But I also know that not everyone is fortunate enough to win their battle against cancer, which makes the Play4Kay game that much more important.

What I want to highlight the most about the Play4Kay game is it shouldn’t be this one day where we raise money and bring awareness to women’s cancer, then move on with our lives.

I want to bring awareness to everything that I do every single day, both on and off the basketball court.

So on February 24, you better believe I’m going to have pink nails and be decked out in pink with my teammates, but it’s not just a basketball game to me.

It’s a purpose.

Every time I take that court, I’m playing for Aunt Shelly.

I’m playing for Kay Yow.

I’m playing for every woman that’s been impacted by cancer.

Most importantly, I’m committed to continuing the fight against cancer, a battle that should never go unnoticed or be forgotten.