Lourdes softball team rallies behind teen with cancer
By Donny Henn
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
The storyline: Lourdes sophomore and soccer player Hanna Hughes was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, just 13 days ago on April 9. Her friends and classmates have been busy organizing fundraisers to help with her medical expenses. The Lourdes softball team is hosting an eight-team tournament on Saturday called "Hits for Hanna" to benefit both Hanna and the Cancer Awareness Foundation. The tournament begins at 9 a.m. at the new Rochester Fastpitch Complex at Highway 14 East and 36th Ave. SE.
What's next:Hanna, who is the daughter of Dave and Ginger Hughes, will receive her second chemotherapy treatment on Friday so she won't be able to attend the softball tournament in her honor. She will have another chemo treatment next Friday, and then faces surgery in June to remove the mass of tumors in the region of her right hip and pelvis.
Kelly Melhorn had no experience organizing fundraising events before this month, and Taylor Nelson had never helped put together a benefit softball tournament.
But the two Rochester Lourdes High School students were inspired to take on these new challenges when their classmate and friend Hanna Hughes was confronted with a frightening new obstacle of her own.
Hughes, a sophomore and soccer player at Lourdes, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, just two weeks ago and is already immersed in treatments to beat the disease.
"It's like a freight train hit us," said Dave Hughes, Hanna's father. "It's a very fast-growing cancer, but they told us it's treatable, and Hanna is very strong and very positive."
The Hughes family, including Dave's ex-wife Ginger and their older daughter, Emily, a Winona State University sophomore, have been drawing strength from the Lourdes community, especially the students.
Melhorn, a Lourdes sophomore and Hanna's best friend, immediately went to work on a campaign she calls "Hanna's Hope", and has been busy ordering and selling bracelets and T-shirts to help raise money for the Hughes's medical expenses.
Last Saturday, Melhorn hosted a party at her home that drew hundreds of students and raised thousands of dollars. Melhorn and friends sold all 500 of the $3 cancer awareness bracelets, and they nearly sold out the first order of 160 T-shirts at $10 each.
"To be honest I was scared out of my mind; I had never done anything like this before," Melhorn said. "But once it hit me what Hanna was going through, I had to do something to help. Hanna and me are attached at the hip; we're like two peas in a pod, and I don't know what I'd do without her."
Hanna doesn't play softball, but she has been a longtime soccer teammate of many of the Lourdes softball players, and their friendship transcends sports boundaries. Taylor Nelson, a senior captain of the softball team, calls Hanna"an honorary member" of the team.
It was Nelson's idea to link Saturday's eight-team Lourdes softball tournament, which was originally planned to help support the Cancer Awareness Foundation, to Hanna's cause.
"Two weeks ago this (tournament) took on a whole new meaning for us," Nelson said. "Hanna's diagnosis was devastating news for many of us, and it really hit home that cancer affects us all."
Nelson penned a letter to each of the coaches and teams attending the tournament, asking for their help with the fundraiser. The proceeds from the event will be divided equally between the Cancer Awareness Foundation and the Hughes family medical expenses.
Nelson challenged each team to raise $1,000, and while that sounds ambitious, she has gotten reports than several teams have already made good progress toward that goal.
"I knew that I had friends, but I didn't know so many people loved me," Hanna said. "It definitely helps."
Nelson and Melhorn both said they have been inspired by how Hanna is handling her ordeal.
"I think she's one of the strongest people I know," Nelson said. "I can't even imagine what she is going through."
"Hanna has the best attitude. She doesn't complain, she just takes it as it comes," Melhorn said. "She has taught me a lot."
Hanna first felt a discomfort in her right hip at the end of the winter indoor soccer season. Initially doctors thought it was a sports injury and began treating her with physical therapy. But when her condition didn't improve she underwent a battery of MRI's, CT scans and blood tests.
A soccer player since she was 5 years old, Hanna is intent on beating her cancer and returning to the game — and the friends — she loves.
"Next year," she said, "I'm going to play."