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High school softball: Olympus player battles brain cancer with the support of the softball community

Published: Monday, April 14 2014 11:30 p.m. MDT

SLCC head coach Cyndee Bennett, Reagan Everett and SLCC assistant coach Tara Bendt at a ceremony to make Everett and honorary member of the Bruin softball team.

Credit - Courtesy of Salt Lake Community College

SALT LAKE CITY — Reagan Everett’s body can’t eliminate the cancer cells inside her head.

But the sophomore has found a place where the disease doesn’t matter — the softball field.

“When I got my diagnosis it was kind of devastating, obviously,” said the 16-year-old Olympus High student. “But my first question after I was diagnosed was, ‘Will I be able to play softball again?’”

Everett has an extremely rare genetic condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

“It means her body can’t fight cancer with proteins like everyone else,” said her father, James Everett. “Chemo doesn’t work; radiation doesn’t work. Typically, when they get this, it’s just a battle.”

Thanks to three softball teams, Reagan will not have to endure that fight alone. Her high school team and region opponent Bountiful will come together to raise money for a purple game (the color of brain cancer charities) next week, and the softball team at Salt Lake Community College has adopted Reagan through a charity called Friends of Jaclyn.

Reagan's life changed last August when she was diagnosed with brain cancer. A week after her diagnosis, surgeons performed a nine-hour operation, but they were only able to remove one of the two tumors growing in her brain. The second tumor was dispersed, which means the cancer cells were spread throughout her brain.

“Only 400 families in the world have this gene mutation,” James Everett said. “She has relatives on her mom’s side who’ve had the P-53, like 13 or 14, and they’ve all died. She’s grown up with it.”

Reagan, her mom and her brother have the gene mutation, but so far her mother and brother haven’t had to deal with cancer.

“They’ll just develop cancer over and over,” James Everett said. “It’s been tough. ... It just is what it is. There is no cure.”

Reagan said she and her parents battle the reality of the situation with humor.

“Me and my dad always joke that we’re in denial,” she said. “We’re really not, but our family always says you have to be able to joke around to get through cancer. It’s definitely a scary thing. I just like the mentality of nothing is going to stop me and life is always going to throw things your way and you have to be able to push through it.”

One thing that’s made the push much easier, she said, is the support of the softball community.

It began when she told her former prep coach, Cyndee Bennett, about her diagnosis. Just a few months earlier, Bennett had taken the head coaching job at Salt Lake Community College.

“That day we went to Cafe Rio and just talked about it,” Everett said. “She bought me a Build-A-Bear teddy bear with a Bruins shirt on, and she told me to keep it with me to comfort me.” And then the coach told her she wasn’t just going to be an occasional visitor welcome at the Bruins’ practices and games.

“She told me I was going to be an honorary member of the team,” Everett said grinning. “I was freaking out.”

The team welcomed Everett to the squad with a ceremony last September. But like good teammates, they don’t let a day pass without checking on her.

“They text me or Snapchat me every day and I go to as many games as I can,” she said.

Bennett said the idea of inviting Reagan to be an honorary member of the team came from her assistant coach — Tara Bendt.

“We wanted to support her and to be as meaningful as we can in her life,” Bennett said. “That’s our goal.”

Bendt said she was a player at UNLV when the team adopted another child with cancer through the nonprofit Friends of Jaclyn, which pairs collegiate and high school teams up with gravely ill children.

That experience was profound, Bendt said.

“I hadn’t been around someone who was that sick before,” Bendt said. “It really kind of made you focus on what was important. You realize there are more important things. She was fighting for her life, whereas we’re just fighting to win games. It was a great experience, and you realize what’s more important and that you should cherish the moments you have, be grateful for what you have.”

Reagan said she was stunned that the SLCC team full of players she barely knew wanted to embrace her in the way she did. In fact, accepting help has been a difficult aspect of her journey.

“I’m learning to just accept help and be grateful,” she said.

One thing that makes it difficult is that she just wants to be a normal teen worrying about normal teen issues like dating and driving.

“The biggest thing right now is the psychological,” said her dad. “She’s had a couple of breakdowns not wanting to die.” But before she could travel too far down that road, the Bruins softball team embraced her.

“I was totally shocked,” said James Everett. “It’s been wonderful for her. She hasn’t stopped smiling since they told her.”

Reagan said her high school teammates also surprised her by announcing that their annual pink game, which raises money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute, would instead be a purple game, raising money for her family and their medical expenses. The game is scheduled for April 25 against Bountiful and both teams will auction specially-made jerseys and are raising money through other efforts.

“Reagan is a big part of our team,” said senior Marissa Johnson. “We just wanted to support her. She deserves everything she can get. She doesn’t even like to talk about it a lot because she doesn’t like it when people pity her for it. She’s still really positive and she never uses it for an excuse.”

In fact, unlike a lot of teens, Everett couldn’t wait to return to school full time, which took a few months.

“I was ready,” she said. “Mostly excited for softball of course, but I was ready to get back in the groove of being a normal sophomore.”

She said she just tries to enjoy each moment, especially those that come on a softball diamond.

“I’m so happy I get to spend my time with the coaches and my teammates — even if we have to run.”

Twitter: adonsports EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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