Cancer affects more than just the patient.
The disease reaches family and friends, bringing sadness to each connection. It also, however, brings strength and unity.
Support and perseverance in the face of cancer was on full display Sunday when the Bulls concluded their Cut for the Cure game, with each member of the USF baseball team taking the field a second time after its victory over UCF to shave their heads.
USF coach Billy Mohl, who lost his wife Sarah to a rare form of cervical cancer in 2013, was among the last to get his head shaved. Holding the clippers was his son Hunter.
“Bald is beautiful,” Mohl said. “I promised (Sarah) right before she died that I wouldn’t stop raising money for cancer awareness. She’s looking down and has a big ol’ smile on her face.”
Mohl is just one member of the team who is impacted by cancer.
“Some of us have family members who are going through cancer,” catcher Tyler Dietrich said. “It’s incredible, only a few of us may be impacted directly, but the whole team coming together and showing support is amazing.”
Dietrich is among those directly impacted. His 20-year-old sister, Alexsa Dietrich, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February.
Alexsa, a student at Ohio State and a former member of the dance team at the University of Alabama, is in her third of 12 chemotherapy treatments at Moffitt Cancer Center. She is enrolled in school remotely while she receives treatment in Tampa.
A crowd of USF fans, friends and family watched as the team lined up to shave their heads after the Bulls defeated the Knights 4-2. Among them was Sandi Dietrich, Alexsa and Tyler’s mother.
“It was heartwarming,” Sandi said. “Alexsa was mentioned several times on player’s ‘I cut my hair for’ papers.”
Players and coaches filled out papers that read “I cut my hair for:” and wrote down names of those who are affected by cancer. “Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Sarah, My Sis Alexsa,” were some of the responses.
Alexsa was recently inspired to change her major when she encountered a sign in the lobby of Moffitt Cancer Center. She was walking between clinics to another during one of her treatments when she saw a social worker appreciation poster. She saw the display, which read some of the duties of social workers. She knew then that she wanted to pursue a career in oncology social work instead of her original major in business. According to her mother, Alexsa’s cancer motivated her to make the change.
“Oncology social workers help families find resources they may not know of or have the financial ability to do,” Sandi said.
The Vs. Cancer Foundation organizes the Cut for the Cure events. The foundation started when Chase Jones was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a freshman on the North Carolina baseball team.
“This whole thing started from a guy I played for in college named Rick Jones,” Mohl said. “His nephew got diagnosed with brain cancer and he was a good friend of mine. He started this thing and we got behind him, obviously my wife going through it. The older you get the more people you start knowing that go through this stuff; people on our team have families going through it. The event is really important to me.”
Vs. Cancer is the signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Its proceeds are split between child-life programs in local hospitals and national research.
This year, the Bulls have raised over $10,000 for Vs. Cancer. The foundation partners with 150 other college athletic programs and has raised over $4.2 million.
As the crowd cleared from the right-field line at USF Baseball Stadium, a trail of hair littered the grass and tears filled the eyes of those affected the most.
“I think that (the Cut for the Cure game) bonds them,” Sandi said, donned in a shirt that read ‘Alexsa Strong.’ “The anticipation of shaving their heads and then it bonds them. It puts a whole new spin on teammates.”