Breast cancer survivor seeks to ‘Paint the Park Pink’

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports, Sevier

This Saturday is “Paint the Park Pink” night at Smokies Stadium, and the players will don special jerseys that will be auctioned to raise money for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

This game means a lot to me as a nine-year survivor of breast cancer and with the help of Smokies Baseball, Erie Insurance and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, we brought it back to the ballpark in 2019 for the first time in years. In 2020, the pandemic wiped out Minor League Baseball and the shortened season in 2021 didn’t allow time for the “pink game,” but it’s a go in 2022.

The Smokies, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, will play the Mississippi Braves, an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, in a Double-A matchup on Saturday, Aug. 13, with first pitch set for 7:15 p.m.

When the Braves’ farmhands come to Kodak, it’s always a popular series at Smokies Stadium, and fans can get a pre-loaded $3 off tickets for Saturday’s game – Making Strides will benefit from sales – by using this special link here.

Maria Cornelius waits to go onto the field during the Smokies’ pink game in 2019 in a photo taken by friend Jeannine Henney, also a breast cancer survivor.

In December of 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy in early 2013. While there have been a few medical hurdles to clear, I have had clean checkups for nine years. I am one of the fortunate ones.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), breast cancer is the second-most common cancer in women in the United States with skin cancers the first. In 2022, an estimated 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. Another 51,400 new cases will be diagnosed of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – a pre-invasive form with a nearly 100 percent cure rate since it has remained confined to the duct walls and has not spread. About 43,250 women will die from breast cancer in 2022.

I had invasive ductal carcinoma. Two weeks after a normal annual exam, I found a lump in my breast and called my doctor, who saw me the next day and arranged a mammogram, which led to an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy, which led to the diagnosis. I caught it early and survived. Had I ignored the lump, the outcome would have been much different.

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, which is part of ACS, will be on the concourse at Saturday’s game to raise aware about breast cancer and provide information about our upcoming fund-raising walk at Lakeshore Park on Oct. 23. I joined the Making Strides’ committee in 2015 to help plan the annual walk, and we were able to add the pink baseball game, too, thanks to the corporate sponsorship of Erie Insurance.

Fans can bid on the jerseys starting this week by using the Live Source app here – and 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to Making Strides. After the game, the players will autograph the jerseys, and fans who win and are at the ballpark can pick up the jersey at the stadium that night. Bids also can be made from anywhere in the country, and the jersey will be mailed to the winner.

Baseball giveaways for Saturday’s game.

Three head coaches at Tennessee also signed and donated items to Making Strides, and those will be auctioned on the concourse: Kellie Harper (pink basketball); Rick Barnes (Nike basketball); and Tony Vitello (baseball). Bidders must be present to win. The Smokies also have donated items, including a signed pink bat to auction and a raffle for select pink jerseys. The first 1,000 fans will receive a free pink baseball.

The evening also will include post-game fireworks and a tennis ball toss to win prizes. Making Strides volunteers will sell the tennis balls on the concourse. Making Strides and Erie Insurance are donating gift baskets – fans throw tennis balls on the field to try to get them to stop inside a ring – and the Smokies also provide prize packages, such as gift cards.

Still, the purpose of the game is to raise awareness about breast cancer and funds for research. Metastatic breast cancer, the cause of the death this week of Olivia Newton-John, is especially underfunded.

Survivors, including those undergoing treatment, will be able to walk onto the field in the middle of the second inning to be recognized by the two teams and fans. Survivors who want to participate should be on the concourse before the first inning ends to be escorted to field level.

In the middle of the fourth inning, all fans can hold up a sign, which will distributed at the gates, during a moment of silence as part of Stand Up To Cancer with space to write the name of a special someone who survived, is undergoing treatment or has passed away.

Let’s “Paint the Park Pink” this Saturday.

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at Moxley Carmichael since 2013, began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press. She can be reached at [email protected].


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