Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gazette-Times Article

As the head softball coach at Philomath High School I am trying to put together a Pink Out game to raise money for Project H.E.R., the local non-profit that helps breast cancer patients get through this difficult time. Below is the article and the link, along with the team picture. Just trying to pay it forward.

Stephanie Kerst had no reason to worry.
At 36, the mammogram was just a new addition to her annual check-up.
It was late August when Kerst, the Philomath High softball coach, went through the procedure.
The call came on Sept. 10.
They had found a lump. It was tiny, but it was there.
“I’m dying,” Kerst thought.
“Because when you first find out, they don’t know anything. All they know is, you have cancer. That’s all you’re told. So then you wait.”
Her husband, Jeremy, finally arrived home and they talked about the situation.
It helped that Jeremy is a cancer survivor, but the unknown loomed.
The next day Kerst got another call.
This one from Joann Stutzman of Project H.E.R., a local program that helps women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer work through the process.
They talked and Kerst realized that she had hope.
“It makes you feel better,” Kerst said. “You’re not dying. There is help. There are resources. There are all these things out there that will help you get through it.”
Kerst had no idea if she would continue coaching softball at PHS.
She called athletic director Steve Bennett soon after she found out and told him that she would be fine if they had to find someone else.
“Because at the time I talked to him I knew nothing,” she said. “He said, ‘I will do whatever it takes to make sure that you get to do what you want to do.’”
She knew she wanted to stick with softball.
There was a long road to go to get to that point.
Despite the inclination of her doctors, Kerst was determined to get a mastectomy.
She didn’t want to wonder if the cancer would come back.
“In my mind it was no question,” she said. “I always said that if I got it I was going to get a mastectomy. The doctors think I’m crazy because it was a stage 0-1 which is what I have for breast cancer, which is very small, but I just don’t want to sit and obsess about it.
“I just want to move on with my life.”
Kerst had surgery on Oct. 5.
Then the real troubles began.
Battle after battle
Kerst left the hospital on Oct. 8, a Friday. She felt fine and went to a football party the next day and seemed OK through the week.
She woke up the following Friday morning screaming from the pain.
It was a staph infection.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” Kerst said. “My left side was killing me. I was running a fever. We called the doctor and he said get in here immediately. I was in the hospital for five days because of the infection.”
A few weeks later she was hit by another infection.
“The whole thing swelled up. They took out 300 (cubic centimeters) of pus out of my left side,” she said. “The day after Thanksgiving I had surgery to have my left expander removed.
“Then I felt great.”
Kerst started chemotherapy in December.
She had four sessions and had a bad reaction after the second one.
She wanted to quit.
“I didn’t want to do it anymore and my husband’s like, ‘You can do it, you can do it,’ ” she said. “And after number three, you want to stop. People who do 12 chemo sessions or more, they are amazing to me. After number four, I couldn’t have done it.”
Kerst got through the chemo and did not have to go through radiation treatment.
Tests of her lymph nodes came back negative.
“Right now I can say I’m cancer-free,” she said.
A season of recovery
Her hair is growing back in wisps of blonde.
Day after day, Kerst is returning to her old self.
Getting back to softball was a tough transition physically but a boost mentally for Kerst.
Recovery from chemo and the surgery takes some time and Kerst had plenty of down days.
“I watch her and she’s inspiring in that she comes out and she pushes these kids to do their best even though I know there are times when she’s tired,” assistant coach Saff Evans said.
“She doesn’t show it but she’s quite honest with them  at times when she goes, ‘I hurt today,’ or ‘I’m tired today.’ But she just perseveres. It’s just amazing.”
Coaching the Warriors keeps Kerst moving forward.
Most followers of the program figured she would quit coaching. They thought it would be too draining for her.
“This is what kept me going,” she said. “I have this to look forward to. I have this to come to every day. I have a great job. I love my job.”
That doesn’t mean Kerst has boundless energy while she’s coaching.
She takes full advantage of her five-member staff when she can.
Jeremy Kerst said she took a tumble while coaching a game against Pleasant Hill, but getting to the diamond has been a perfect outlet for her.
“You can tell at home that definitely after she coaches that she’s a lot more happy, most of the time,” he said. “It gives her something else to think about besides that, something less painful.”
Project H.E.R. made such an impact on Kerst that she wanted to give back.
Kerst’s idea was to hold a pink out game to benefit the program, which serves Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties.
The game will be on May 4 at PHS.
But there will be more to this game than players and fans wearing pink.
There will be a couple people from Project H.E.R. at the game to give out information.
The team is selling T-shirts (the ones we are wearing in the picture), taking pledges and donations will be accepted.
“Everybody does a pink out game but there’s no purpose behind them,” Kerst said. “They say, ‘Oh, we’re going to wear pink for this game.’ I want to do more than wear pink.
“This is my way of giving back.”

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