BELGRADE — Athletes from all over gathered in Belgrade Saturday for the sixth annual Lucy’s Light Dodgeball Tournament to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research. Lucy’s Light was founded by Hillary Waldeisen after her daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age three.
“My daughter Lucy was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma,” Waldeisen said. “I realized how underfunded pediatric cancer was, so once we were kind of out of the thick of things I decided to do an organization to give back. Our friends had had a dodgeball tournament for us when Lucy was diagnosed, so when I was trying to think of an event to do I thought, ‘Let’s do dodgeball.’
“We did the first tournament in 2013, this is our sixth annual, and it’s become not only a fundraiser that a lot of people put their heart into, but a lot of our teams not only raise the $250 donation, but go above and beyond. So they’ve kind of taken it on as their fundraiser. It’s also just really become part of the community.”
“It’s a fun event that really brings a lot of awareness towards pediatric cancer,” added Ashley Fancher. “A lot of people don’t know about (pediatric cancer) until you’re touched by it.”
Lucy’s Light has a special place in Ashley’s heart, as she is also a survivor of childhood cancer. Fancher is also the treasurer of The Bozeman 3, a nonprofit organization that supports Gallatin Valley families that are affected by cancer.
“I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer, in 2004 when I was 14,” Fancher said. “I had a year of chemo, I had limb-salvage surgery, I ended up doing experimental chemo because my first rounds weren’t working, and I’ve been cancer-free since then. I’ll celebrate 14 years this summer, which is super exciting.”
Fancher had bones in her body replaced by titanium due to the type of cancer. Unfortunately, this cost her the ability to do some of the things she loved most.
“I was an avid basketball and volleyball player, my family has played Division I basketball, so it was my life,” Fancher said. “I thought I tore my ACL in a basketball tournament, but ended up finding out it was cancer. Within two weeks I started chemo. With bone cancer you have to take bone out, so I was the second person to get this type of prototype. Now it’s standard. I can’t really run and jump on it, but years ago they would just amputate, so it’s great that we have some great prototypes now. I can’t really play basketball anymore, so I have to find other avenues to get my energy out.
“The one thing that a lot of people don’t remember is that your cancer journey doesn’t end when the chemo ends,” Fancher continued. “For example, I just had my tune-up surgery on all my titanium in November. That’s why an event like this is so important. The funds are raised for Cookies for Cancer, which is a nonprofit that funds research for specifically pediatric cancer research. Only 4 percent of our national cancer institute money goes towards pediatric cancer research.”
The Bozeman 3 and Lucy’s Light have teamed up to tackle pediatric cancer in the Gallatin Valley. It’s also allowed Waldeisen to form a special relationship with Fancher.
“I love seeing Ashley because she gives hope,” Waldeisen said. “She’s been through it, and here she is. I feel like we have an understanding. There’s no explanation, but you just understand each other.”
Fancher also pointed to the support and community feel that the dodgeball tournament gives the families of those diagnosed.
“It’s really important to have the support, because whenever you go through treatment — for me, I’m a childhood cancer survivor, so it’s great for parents and kids that are going through it right now that they can get through it,” said Fancher. “They can have a nice, long, healthy life.”
Lucy’s Light Dodgeball Tournament has become a mainstay in the Gallatin Valley as the communities come together to support a common cause. This year the tournament had 28 teams, up from 21 last year. To this point, Lucy’s Light has raised over $100,000 for pediatric cancer research.
“It’s funny. I’ve had quite a few people be like, ‘We just expect it to happen now,’” Waldeisen said. “It’s such a great event, and actually one of the spirit squad (members) said this is one of their favorite events of the year, too. It’s just great to have the community come together for a common cause, and for the good, and obviously raising money and awareness for our kids with cancer.”
“(My team) felt like, ‘Hey it’s a good cause, let’s get some money together, see what we can do,'” said tournament participant Jake Fish. “We’re going to make it a tradition now to come out, make sure we’re donating every year, and getting all the sponsorships we can to bring some money to this great fundraiser and great cause.”
Lucy, now 12, has been N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) since her tumor was removed at age 3.