Basketball game frames common fight against cancer

ARLINGTON — As a basketball coach, Nick Brown knows about being in hard-fought games against tough foes.

But nothing in his coaching experience prepared him for an opponent like cancer.

The disease “is a monster,” said Brown, whose wife, Caryn, is a breast cancer survivor of 2 1/2 years. For victims, but also for their loved ones, “cancer is this terrible thing that exists … and it never goes away.”

Those memories are a big reason why tonight’s Coaches vs. Cancer game is so meaningful to Brown, the head boys basketball coach at Arlington High School. His first time coaching in the game was in 2010, shortly after Caryn Brown was diagnosed.

“That (first) game was exactly what I needed,” Brown said. “People in the community knew she was sick, and all of a sudden I saw the support and all the other good things that came out of it.”

Tonight’s game against the visiting Monroe Bearcats will have even greater poignancy for the Arlington basketball community because Erin Lewis, the mother of Eagles junior post Nate Lewis, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August. After a bilateral mastectomy and the removal of 30 lymph nodes — 26 tested positive — it was determined that her cancer was Stage IV, meaning it had spread to the bones of her pelvis and back.

Since her surgery, Erin Lewis has fought back with a new drug called Pertuzumab, which works to block the cancer’s ability to grow. She is encouraged by the results and vows “that I will beat this, and I will be here.”

Erin Lewis will be an honorary coach for tonight’s game, which will be played in a gym awash with pink. Students have spent the week preparing pink posters, and spectators have been encouraged to wear pink clothes. Money will be raised through raffles, donations and the sale of donated items.

“This event hits really close to us,” Caryn Brown said. “Nick said, ‘I want to make this game a priority at our school because we’ve seen the impact. We’ve also seen how the community comes together, and we’ve seen what people can do when we work together.’”

After her diagnosis, Caryn Brown says she was blessed by a continuous outpouring of support. Neighbors and friends showered her with kind words and offers of help, and that generosity helped lift the Browns through a very difficult time.

“When you go out in the community here, you feel like you’re being hugged,” she said. “And that’s what we want in the gym (tonight). We want everyone in that gym getting one great big hug because we’re all fighting this together.”

“Every time I go out into the community I feel I’m being held,” Erin Lewis agreed. “It doesn’t matter if I’m just going to the grocery story, there’s always someone there. And it’s amazing. I can’t even tell you how much that means.”

For Nate Lewis, the Coaches vs. Cancer game “is the biggest game of the year and everybody knows it. Everybody’s wearing pink, and we can’t even fit everybody in the gym because everybody wants to go. So it’s huge.”

Nate Lewis was preparing for his senior football season when his mother was diagnosed last summer, and since then “the support we’ve received from the football guys and the basketball guys and just the community in general has been incredible. Every day at school, people ask how she’s doing.”

In the long, costly and all-too-slow effort to conquer cancer, money raised at a single benefit basketball game is a small step indeed. But it is a step nonetheless, and it is likewise a chance for the players and coaches, their families, and the fans who pitch in their dollars to make a statement about the power of one — one community united behind one goal.

Erin Lewis attended last year’s Coaches vs. Cancer game — ironically, several months before her own diagnosis — and she remembers “the amazing amount of energy and support in that gym. You just think you can do anything.”

And in a battle with cancer, she said, “your attitude is huge. One thing I’ve said from Day 1 is that I don’t hope I’ll get better, I believe I’ll get better.

“There’s a difference, and we do believe that.”

The game

Tonight’s Coaches vs. Cancer boys basketball game at Arlington High School features the host Eagles against the Monroe Bearcats. The tipoff is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Money for the fight against cancer will be raised through raffles, donations and the sale of donated items.

According to the American Cancer Society, the Coaches vs. Cancer program “is a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches … (and) seeks to increase cancer awareness and promote healthy living among students, faculty and staff, fans, and the community at large.”

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