Volley For A Cure Takes On New Meaning In Joliet

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Published on October 31 2013 2:21 pm
Last Updated on October 31 2013 2:21 pm
Written by Millie Lange

(Illinois High School Association State Article)

The name doesn’t change the mission.

Whether it is Volley For The Cure, Dig Pink, Spike Out Cancer or some other variation, thousands of high schools and student-athletes around the country will play in pink-themed volleyball matches this season aimed at raising awareness and funds for defeating a common opponent, cancer.

Sometimes the name completely changes the mission.

That is the case for Joliet Central Athletic Director Steve Locke and his wife Erin. The name in this instance is Addison Faith Locke, their daughter who lost her battle with hepatoblastoma in July at the age of seven.

It is one in a series of losses for the Joliet Township community (Joliet Central High School and Joliet West High School had separate athletics programs before combining into Joliet Township from 1993-2010, before separating again in 2010-11) that has made the annual cancer fundraising volleyball match between the district schools so important.

The IHSA and the Illinois High School Girls Volleyball Coaches Association partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure prior to the 2008 season, encouraging schools to participate in one Volley for the Cure match each season, and Peg Bryan took the lead for Joliet Township. A three-time cancer survivor and Central/Township volleyball scorekeeper for nearly 20 years, Bryan organized the annual Volley For The Cure match until she lost her fight with the disease in 2012. Sadly, both programs would endure more losses in the next year, as Arlene Bambule, the mother of Joliet Central head volleyball coach Suzzie Bambule, and long-time Joliet West athletic secretary Minnie Hervey would both succumb to cancer.

“Our Joliet Township family has seen what loss cancer can bring to so many people,” said Joliet West head volleyball coach Al Mart.

However, no loss would impact or bring the community together in the way the seven-year old who loved ladybugs did.

Addison was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a form of liver cancer, in April 2012 following a family trip to Disney World, where her father recalls that she “wasn’t herself, but was a trooper.” Suffering from bouts of fever and lethargy, a blood test would eventually reveal an irregular enzyme count in her liver, which led to a battery of tests. Those tests would disclose an AFP cancer tumor marker count of 90,000 (a healthy individual usually ranges from 0-8).

Addison’s life quickly became a whirlwind of chemotherapy, radiation, holistic medicine and other cutting edge cancer treatments such as Y-90 and ICE. She visited doctors throughout Illinois, in Denver, Colorado and spent several weeks at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati, Ohio in preparation for a liver transplant. The liver transplant was performed in late September at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and initially appeared to be a complete success.

“There is always a fear that it (the cancer) will spread when they go in for surgery and have to take out an organ like that,” said Steve. “Addison’s AFP count had gradually gone down (from 44K to 1200 to 70) and we were getting ready to go home when the lab results came back that her count had gone back up. The cancer had metastasized in her lungs.”

Addison remained the epitome of strength over the final 10 months of her life, as family friend Sandra Fleck recalled acts like Addison grabbing her mother’s face and saying “stop crying mom, I am going to beat this.”

Actions like that earned her the nickname “Super Addison”, which is the name of the Facebook Page the family created to help keep friends and family up-to-date on her progress. The page greets visitors with a cover photo of a masked Super Addison with her younger siblings (sister Rori and twin brothers Quinn & Jackson).

“Someone said ‘you are Super Addison, you are a superhero’ and she just ate that up,” remembered Steve. “People started sending her masks and capes and things like that. She absolutely loved it.”

Addison passed away at home with her family in the early morning hours of July 19.

“It was brutal,” recalled Steve. “There were times when she didn’t recognize us. But I’ll never forget that, even near the end, she would ask ‘where are the boys?’ She was always such a mother hen for her sister and brothers.”

Addison changed the game in Joliet.

Fleck and her husband Matt, a Joliet firefighter, were in the process of putting together a cancer awareness/fundraising event through an organization called Pink Heals, which is known for its pink fire trucks, last year when they were introduced to Addison’s story. She would inspire them to go beyond a single event, as they have since created the Joliet Chapter of Pink Heals.

“Addison was the inspiration for the Joliet Chapter of Pink Heals,” said Matt. Sandra, a bank vice-president in the area continued, “It was incredible. Everywhere we went, people would say, ‘have you heard about Addison, do you know about Addison’s story?’ She touched so many lives and brought so many people in the community together.”

Addison’s story served as the catalyst for the creation of the Joliet Chapter of Pink Heals and the organization supported her and the Locke family during the remainder of her young life, as a Pink Heals fire truck would lead the procession at her funeral. Hence, when the Central and West volleyball teams met on October 22, the game and its proceeds went to the local chapter of Pink Heals that has become a part of the Joliet Township community.

The sleeves on the pink shirts sold for that match, and on the player's jerseys that night, read #D4A  for Don't Forget Addison. They won't. True to her superhero alter ego, Addison continues to help, inspire, comfort and save others battling cancer. Though she is gone, she remains a constant via an eight-ton living memorial, the pink fire truck that now bears her name.

Since the Volley for the Cure matches began in 2008, IHSA schools have raised over $1,000,000 million dollars for Susan G. Komen for the Cure. When you look at the IHSA schools who raised the most money in their Volley for the Cure efforts in 2012, the list includes Naperville Central, Erie, Pekin, Beardstown, Riverside-Brookfield, Donovan, Burlington Central, Staunton and Mt. Olive.

Interestingly, there is no common link between the schools, not by geography, size, conference, success or history.

Odds are that at each of these schools, it was a name, like Addison Faith Locke, that changed the mission.