Local "Coaches vs. Cancer" game raises funds and awareness to battle cancer

Published on Wed, Jan 29, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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Touched by the personal story of a cancer survivor, Blaine basketball fans and students contributed over $500 for the Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising initiative put on by the Northwest Conference.

The annual fundraiser supports the new PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Hospital Cancer Center in Bellingham by raising awareness of community members who have been affected by cancer.

“It was a huge success,” said athletic director Steve Miller. “We run the fundraiser over five games to spread awareness as much as we can. The money is great, but we think the awareness is equally important.”

The Coaches vs. Cancer girls game at home against Meridian January 24 featured honorary coaches for each team. Louise O’Flaherty was the honorary coach for Blaine, and game announcer John Liebert shared with the crowd a brief biography chronicling her battle with cancer.

O’Flaherty is the grandmother of Blaine basketball players Alexis and Kellen McElwain and has five additional grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. She was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1947 and moved to Washington in 1978.

In 2001, O’Flaherty and her husband moved to San Diego for work. In the spring of the following year, she discovered a lump in her breast which a biopsy confirmed to be cancerous.

According to O’Flaherty, surviving cancer isn’t just about fighting through the treatment and beating the disease, but also having the best possible care. She was treated by Scripps Health health system in La Jolla, California.

“The people who work in oncology are the most caring, warm and understanding people,” she said. “They make you feel everything will be OK even when you are not sure.”

O’Flaherty said she felt lucky to have had that support, as she was away from her friends. She underwent a lumpectomy, a mastectomy and a hematoma procedure. Three weeks after surgery, she started chemotherapy. The treatment involved three drugs infused once every three weeks for a total of six rounds and 18 weeks. 

Describing what the treatment was like, O’Flaherty said it felt like having the flu for 10 days, then feeling well for 10 days allowing her to get necessary tasks done. One of the drugs was known to cause heart problems in some patients, and O’Flaherty did develop a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. Her caretakers told O’Flaherty, “What doesn’t kill you will cure you.”

O’Flaherty has been a cancer survivor for 12 years and has regular screenings and cardiac checkups. According to her, she is now living a wonderful and relatively healthy life.

Fundraising for the cause gave fans some entertainment as random people from the crowd were selected for a half-time shooting contest. For five games leading up to and including the official Coaches vs. Cancer game, fans entered their names into a drawing, and names were drawn during half-time. Local restaurants, including Paso del Norte and Bob’s Burgers and Brew contributed gift certificates as prizes.

The name drawn for the half-time shoot at this year’s Coaches vs. Cancer game was coincidentally the same name as last year: Cameron Ellis, son of principal Scott Ellis. He hit all three of his shots (a lay-in, a free throw and a three-pointer) before the 30-second buzzer for the second year in a row, to win $150 in gift certificates.

“Year after year, we’ve raised a good pile of cash thanks to the sponsors and community support,” Miller said. “It’s for a great cause.”