Rock Bridge softball team honors breast cancer survivors

Friday, October 9, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:16 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 9, 2009
The Rock Bridge softball team wore pink uniforms in honor of breast cancer awareness. They held a ceremony at the end of their New Franklin game on September 29th. At the end of that game, the girls presented breast cancer survivors in the stands with carnations to honor them for their courage. Linda Henderson, the wife of the girls coach Joe Henderson, was one of the survivors.

COLUMBIA — If handpicking grandmothers were an option in life, Linda Henderson would be at the top of the list. She is the kind of grandmother who invites you into her lap to watch her husband coach his softball team. 

She is the kind of grandmother who survives breast cancer and has an answer for her 6-year-old granddaughter when she asks about death.

The Rock Bridge softball team, like many other sports teams in the area, honored breast cancer survivors and promoted breast cancer awareness by selecting a game to sport pink, the color that has become synonymous with the fight against breast cancer.

At their Sept. 29 game against New Franklin,  the Rock Bridge players wore pink game shirts with the green Bruins logo and pink socks to present breast cancer survivors with a single carnation to celebrate their lives and their courage. Henderson was one of the survivors.

Henderson's presence at the game that night was special. Not just because she is a breast cancer survivor, but also because she has a special connection to the team. Her husband Joe Henderson is the coach.

Twelve years ago, breast cancer left the Henderson family asking why? During a routine mammogram in 1997 the doctors found a lump in her breast. She chose to have a lumpectomy followed by a radiation treatment plan. 

"My wife is a remarkable person, she was healthy, there was no reason for her to get breast cancer" Joe Henderson said. 

The news of Henderson's diagnosis was especially difficult for the family’s four children. Being a teenager is difficult enough, difficult takes on a new meaning when you learn your mother has breast cancer. At the time, Rachel Bennett, Erik Henderson, Joseph Henderson Jr., and Kayla Henderson were angry. 

"The kids dealing with it was probably the worst," Joe Henderson said. "It was a life changing event for them. It scared them." 

Even though the Henderson children leaned on each other for support, finding out their mother had breast cancer was jolting. 

“It was a shock to all of us kids. It was pretty scary,” Rachel Bennett said.

What was ‘normal' changed for the Henderson's at that time, but normalcy was what they tried to maintain. They tried to just live their lives, almost as if the cancer wasn't there. 

"We tried to make life as normal as possible," Joe Henderson said, "The entire time during radiation, Linda did not miss a day of work." 

As a pre-op nurse at University Hospital, Linda Henderson uses her experience to help others. 

"I feel a great deal of compassion towards cancer patients, especially woman with breast cancer who come into the clinic," Linda Henderson said, "I want to tell anyone who comes into the clinic with cancer that it is going to be OK."

Today it is OK, at least for Henderson.  For the first five years after she was diagnosed, she went in to get screened every six months. Now it is only once a year. She is in remission. 

"Sometimes I feel guilty because I am so OK," Linda Henderson said.
That's all right by Joe Henderson.

"It is definitely nice she is a survivor and not not a survivor," Joe Henderson said. 

Honoring breast cancer survivors took on another special meaning for the Rock Bridge coach of 4 years. He wanted his team to learn from it, for it to mean something to them. 

"It is showing respect to survivors and increase awareness among the girls about breast cancer," Joe Henderson said. "It is a learning experience for the kids."

Even the littlest member of the team got something out of it. Elyiah Bennett, who serves as the team's bat girl, is the Henderson's 6-year-old granddaughter. 

The other day she asked her grandmother about death. Henderson tried to explain her breast cancer. 

By the end, Bennett asked, " Grandma are you going to die?" Linda Henderson replied, "Someday, but not today." 

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