Chances are, people will acknowledge that their family has been directly impacted by cancer, or that they at least know someone else that has been affected by the disease.
The illness has plagued many for centuries, and every year there is talk of research, awareness and prevention.
Although it may seem as if it were a futile cause because of a perceived lack of progress, there are statewide events, such as Coaches vs. Cancer, that seek to revitalize optimism through raising funds and recognizing that those touched by the illness are worth fighting for.
On Feb. 9, Long Beach City College will host the annual Coaches vs. Cancer at its Hall of Champions Gymnasium. The event, hosted by community colleges on the statewide and national level, raises proceeds that go toward the American Cancer Society (ACS) for research purposes.
The evening will feature a basketball double header, as the Long Beach City College Vikings women’s and men’s basketball teams will face the El Camino College Warriors at 5pm and 7pm, respectively. Parking will be available for $2, and there is a $5 admission fee.
Coaches vs. Cancer T-shirts and pink wristbands will be for sale for those in attendance, and informational booths will educate the public about the disease.
“It’s us being a part of a collective effort,” said Randy Totorp, Long Beach City College’s athletic director, in an interview on Tuesday. “I don’t think every community college does it, but, I would say, out of the hundred, probably 30 or 40 of us participate. You know, it’s 30 or 40 schools at the end of the year who come together to support and donate. And, collectively, that adds up. It’s part of a bigger effort.”
The school participates in the event through the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). Totorp said that, since 2011, the CCCAA has raised $238,000 in donations to the ACS, per the CCCAA’s information.
In between quarters of both games, cancer survivors and relatives will share their stories with those in attendance. Among the stories will be that of Anna Trybul, who passed away from breast cancer in 2016.
As Molly Sabat is at her home in Bakersfield on a Tuesday afternoon sipping on her tea, she struggles to find a way to put the loss of her daughter Anna into words. Over the phone, stumbling to find a way to express the overwhelming emotion of losing her daughter to breast cancer about two years ago, she admits that she doesn’t know how she managed to cope.
“I always thought there would be something that would happen to save her,” Sabat said. “And I think that’s what got me through it. I didn’t really believe that this was going to end badly. You know, forever hopeful. Maybe it was denial, maybe it was a coping strategy […] but, I never thought, I never believed, that she would die from this.”
In a phone interview this week, Sabat, who was originally going to attend and present Anna’s story at the Coaches vs. Cancer event, explained that she couldn’t handle talking about her daughter in a public setting.
“And, I love talking about Anna, because she was wonderful,” she said, “but it was just going to be very raw and painful for me to stand up and talk about her in front of several dozen or several hundred people.”
Anna was born April 26, 1976. She was Sabat’s first daughter, and she was followed by her sibling Nora two years later.
Pat McKean, the journalism advisor at Long Beach City College who will present during halftime of the women’s game on Friday, said he has fond memories of Anna, Nora and their cousin John during Christmastime in their pajamas.
In an interview Tuesday, McKean said he remembers finding out Anna was born when he was a young adult.
“And, it was so nice to get the call, I believe probably from my mom […],” he said. “I remember the call saying, ‘Your sister and brother-in-law have a baby little niece that’s named Anna.’ So, that was really neat.”
Since Anna lived nearby in Ventura, McKean would see her often and developed a bond with her as she grew up.
Christmas, Anna’s favorite holiday, would feature an annual tradition for the family– “Mr. Quizzer,” a trivia game that McKean developed that would later be renamed to “The Quizzer” for generic purposes when Anna became involved in the planning of the game.
“I always included Anna in that,” McKean said. “She always was really great. I certainly miss her each Christmastime when we gather. Tough, tough times without our wonderful niece.”
McKean would often take Anna and Nora on rides in the ‘70s and early ‘80s in his blue Mustang. He didn’t have kids until the ‘90s, so he said his nieces and nephews were always special to him.
When Anna was a young adult, around age 14 or 15, McKean and his then-wife Cindy took her on a water-skiing and camping trip near Bass Lake in Yosemite in the Fresno area in 1993.
In a memorable incident that is slightly humorous only in hindsight, McKean said he was driving the van, with the boat attached, a “little too fast” on the way back and blew out the tire.
The vehicle didn’t hit any cars, and none of the three were injured, aside from being “shaken up.”
“Anna was sleeping at the time and didn’t even know what happened until we told her,” McKean said. “It’s kind of a jarring wake-up there.”
Anna’s mother described her as a tomboy, someone who was bubbly, yet boisterous. A “rough-houser,” but she still made everybody laugh.
Appropriately, Anna spent her career working with cars at Jim Burke Ford in Bakersfield.
In 2008, she married Phil Trybul and both of them took care of Anna’s daughter Alexis.
“She was a very hands-on mom,” Sabat said. “She and her daughter Alexis, who was 14 when her mom died, had a very close bond. Anna was her friend. It was really magical to see the two of them together.”
Sabat said Alexis always comforts her in moments of grief, always offering a hug to “keep me going, much like her mom did when she was sick.”
Anna first began seeing abnormalities in her breasts at the end of 2014. However, she didn’t get checked until February the following year due to the rush of the holidays and Alexis’s birthday. It was after her tests during her checkup, with Sabat present, that doctors revealed she had breast cancer.
“Of course we were devastated,” Sabat said, “but we know people get breast cancer and have treatments and have kind of a shitty year, but then they recover and go on about their lives, and we were very positive that that’s what we would be dealing with.”
But, the cancer continued to progress.
In November 2015, Anna had a seizure in her car. Her mom said she was at a stop sign and bystanders assisted her out of the car and dialed 911. Brain scans at the hospital revealed what they feared– the cancer had spread to her brain.
“She still was willing to fight, wanted to fight and wanted to do whatever she could do to get better,” Sabat said, “so she underwent brain surgery. Of course, I was with her, her husband was with her, […] Pat and my sister Toni. We were all there with her.”
She went back to work February 2016, but her return would only last three or four days, before she fell at work. Her legs wouldn’t support her. Another diagnosis revealed that the cancer again had spread, this time to her spine, effectively ending her career and having her rely on a wheelchair.
“We were told at that point that she had three to six months to live,” her mom said.
Anna’s 40th birthday came and went in April of that year. But, she still maintained her hallmark positivity and sense of humor.
Sabat said she never complained, and others would observe Anna with astonishment of her optimistic presence.
“She was comforting those of us that loved her and were witnessing her demise,” Sabat said. “She would bring us up, she would make jokes. […] Somebody had told her one time during her illness that she had the greatest sense of humor, and this was after she had a left mastectomy, and so this person said, ‘You just have such a great sense of humor. It’s amazing.’ And Anna replied, ‘Well, if I didn’t have a sense of humor, all I would be is a woman with one boob.’ That’s the kind of thing that she did and said for us that just made her death so excruciating.”
Anna died on May 4, 2016.
McKean said he remembers hearing that Anna just wanted to stand up one more time and cook in the kitchen, which was one of her favorite things to do, especially during Christmas when she would bake cookies.
The last time he saw her, around March 2016, he promised Anna that he and the rest of the family would guide her daughter Alexis toward the path of college, an educational route that Anna and her stepdad Phil never took, although they were still successful.
“I will certainly fulfill that promise,” McKean said, “[…] working with her father Phil, who is certainly a great father, now a single father out of necessity, and so we’ll make sure that Anna’s legacy continues through her daughter and her memories and her cooking and her cookies and everything else that we enjoy.”
Molly Sabat still doesn’t know how she managed to cope with her death nearly two years later.
She echoed her previous thoughts– maybe she was in denial, maybe it was everlasting hope, but it just didn’t seem as if Anna would die.
Sabat said that she herself lost 15 pounds throughout Anna’s illness. Sabat didn’t know she was neglecting her own nutrition, adding that it was difficult to notice in the wake of Anna’s treatments and cancer development.
“So, maybe that was another thing I was in denial about– my own health and well being,” she said.
Like many mothers and daughters, they “bickered and argued.” Anna was upbeat, certainly, but Sabat said she was simply normal, not a perfect soul that she said most people tend to fall back on as a description for deceased relatives.
“I told her many times that I was proud to be her mom,” Sabat said. “[…] I’m stumbling here, because I’m not really sure how I got through it. […] Whether it was denial, whether it was eternal hope, whether it was honest conversations with her that got me through. So, at this point, almost two years later, I’m still not sure how I got through it.”
Sabat managed to cope with her daughter’s illness during that process, but dealing with her death is a struggle that will endure.
“I miss her voice,” she said. “I miss her saying, ‘Hi, Momma.’ And that is something that I would love to hear again.”
More information about the Coaches vs. Cancer event Friday at the Long Beach City College Gymnasium may be found at lbccvikings.com. The event will formally begin at 3pm with activities for students, and the evening is kicked off by the women’s game at 5pm.
UPDATE (Feb. 14, 2018 | 1:58pm): This story has been updated to include the following video, which is a recap of the Coaches vs. Cancer event.
Video by Denny Cristales | Online Editor