By Vivian Malauulu
Chloe Lancaster will never forget her ninth birthday. Not because of the party she had, or the presents she received, but because of where she spent it. Surrounded by limited family and friends and an abundance of presents and well-wishes, on December 13, 2010, Chloe turned 9 in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of Miller’s Children’s Hospital. The day before her birthday, doctors confirmed the results of a biopsy that a mass on her brain was a cancerous germ cell. In spite of this grave revelation, the Lancaster family was thrilled to finally know what had been making their oldest daughter sick for the past couple of weeks, and thankful that it was a type of cancer that doctors felt confident about treating. The very next day, Chloe began chemotherapy against the brain tumor.
Almost three months and four rounds of chemotherapy later, Chloe’s prognosis is good. “I know I can beat this,” Chloe said. “It’s just cancer, and I’m Double-O-Chlo.” Chloe is referring to her longtime softball jersey number (00) which has been retired by the Long Beach Heartwell Fastpitch (LBHFP) softball league in honor of their beloved All Star, who loves softball but has been benched this season by what Chloe perceives as nothing more than a nuisance. “I can’t wait for this to be over,” she said. “All I want to do is play softball. This cancer is making me miss the entire season.”
The LBHFP league board of directors unanimously agreed to dedicate the spring 2011 season to Chloe, who has been an integral part of both spring and fall teams as a catcher since she was 4 years old. “We made Chloe an honorary member of this year’s All Star teams because we know that if she were playing, she would be contributing greatly to her team just as she has done in the past,” said board president Larry Walker.
Chloe’s desire to be a part of this season in spite of cancer was put to the test on Sunday, Feb. 27. Just 12 hours after being released from the hospital after another arduous five-day round of chemo, Chloe insisted that her parents take her to this season’s softball opening ceremonies. Tired and in a tremendous amount of pain, she was determined to be there, and it wasn’t until she started dressing herself that her parents realized there was no stopping her. Randy and Teri Lancaster were apprehensive about taking her, but Chloe was adamant. “Even though she was hurting, she wouldn’t have missed it for anything in the world,” said her mom, Teri. “Her spirits immediately lifted when she put her uniform on. But when she saw the rest of her Ice teammates wearing beanies for the group picture, oh, she was so happy.”
Ice is one of the 10U (10 years old and under) teams this season and carries Chloe on its roster even though she cannot play. In a touching show of solidarity and support, Team Ice surprised Chloe by wearing custom-made beanies during the group picture so that Chloe, who has lost all of her long, beautiful blonde hair as a result of the chemotherapy, wouldn’t feel left out. Chloe spent most of the day sitting in a golf cart, under a heap of blankets, watching the opening-day festivities. It hurt too much to speak or move, so she opted not to stand and say a few words when her coach, Mark Martin, presented her with a special All Star plaque. However, she shocked everyone when it was time for Ice to take its team picture. Chloe slowly took her place among her teammates and gave a weak but beautiful smile.
“Chloe lives and breathes softball,” said Mark Martin, who has coached Chloe for the past two seasons. “Last year, there wasn’t one single day between the end of the summer All Star league and the beginning of fall ball that Chloe wasn’t begging her parents to take her to the park to practice. She is a very dedicated player who is committed to the sport, and her active presence on our team is really missed.”
As catcher, Chloe developed a strong rapport with 10-year-old pitcher Macey Coffman when they were selected to play on the same 8U All Star team last summer. When Chloe started showing gradual signs of illness during fall ball, it was Macey who first commented to her mom that Chloe wasn’t being herself. “Whenever I pitched to her, I thought something was wrong with her eyes because she never missed any catches, but all of a sudden she was missing them,” Macey said. Unbeknownst to Macey, the germ cell’s rapid growth was in fact affecting Chloe’s vision, a common symptom of brain tumors. Once symptoms became evident on the field, they quickly became apparent at school, until Chloe finally collapsed in the nurse’s office and had to be taken by ambulance to the emergency room five days before her birthday. Chloe was not able to finish the fall ball season, even though she begged doctors to allow her to play one more game before her treatment began.
“We have to try our hardest for Chloe so that she knows how much we love and miss her and how bad we want her back on the field,” Macey said. “We are all going to score runs for Chloe this season because we want her to feel like she’s still playing with us.” Macey is referring to a slogan the league has adopted in its efforts to fundraise for the Lancaster family during this difficult time. Bracelets and other gear bearing “Score Runs for Chloe” will be sold throughout the season. The traditional money can that teams circulate amongst their fans each time a player scores a run has also been incorporated into the fundraising campaign. Rather than using the money-can funds for team parties at the end of the season, all proceeds will be given to the Lancasters.
“It’s been tough,” said Teri, who is a stay-at-home mom. “My husband has had to take a lot of time off work, and our insurance doesn’t cover all of our medical bills.” The Lancasters have two other children, Jonathan and Ruby, who are 7 and 4, respectively, and who also play other sports. “We are stronger and braver than we ever were before. We appreciate and cherish each second of life we get to spend with our children,” Teri said. “We are also overwhelmed by the generosity of the families in the league, and we are grateful for all of the prayers and support we’ve received. So many people have been there for us, from the board, right down to the youngest player.”
Chloe is at home recovering and awaiting a pending MRI next week to check on the progress the chemo has had on the tumor. The last MRI taken in January showed a significant decrease in size. Radiation therapy is scheduled to begin the following week. Chloe keeps up with her schoolwork so that she can start school in September with her fourth-grade class without having to repeat the third grade. She also enjoys watching her favorite reality show, Cake Boss, and playing with her three cats and two dogs. Chloe plans on becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, because, in her own giggling words, “Pets are better patients than kids. They don’t have bad attitudes or get moody like I sometimes do.” More giggles.
On Friday, March 11, Chloe is scheduled to throw the opening pitch during the Cal State Long Beach vs. UCLA women’s softball game at Mayfair Park Lisa Fernandez Field at 6pm. The entire LBHFP league is expected to attend in support of Chloe. The league consists of more than 350 girls between the ages of 5 and 14 divided into 32 teams, and every single one of them plans on scoring runs for Chloe this season.
For more information about how to score for Chloe, visit wepay.com and “donate to Chloe’s fight” or visit the league’s website at lbhfp.com.