COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — The Stansbury softball team had been preparing for Saturday for months.
But it wasn’t a team it was trying to beat on the field at the Cottonwood Complex, it was a disease.
Dressed in black and pink shirts that said “Bases for Broadhead,” they surprised one of the school’s teachers with a show of support that shocked and overwhelmed Toni Broadhead so much, she couldn’t remember much of what was said about her during the 17th annual Swing for Life opening ceremonies Saturday afternoon.
“It’s beautiful, very overwhelming,” Broadhead said, tears making her eyes shine. “I really don’t feel worthy of it.” The team, according to head coach Bridget Clinton, was overjoyed at the opportunity to show support to one of their most dedicated fans.
“Toni has been battling breast cancer since the fall, and she’s just a huge supporter of all our athletic programs at the high school,” Clinton said. “The kids really love her, and it’s just kind of hit home. She does so much for us. We just wanted to do something for her to let her know how awesome we think she is.”
Broadhead can’t stop grinning, even as she fights the tears threatening to turn her into the “bawler” her students know and love.
The 52-year-old mother of four did what a lot of women do when it came to the yearly mammograms she was supposed to be getting.
“Well, I was overdue for a mammogram,” she said somewhat sheepishly in the shade of the Cottonwood Complex as the Stallions prepared to play a softball game nearby. “The last couple of years I let other things in my life take precedence. It had been about three years.” She thought she felt something in a self-examination, so she scheduled a mammogram last fall. When the radiologist called her into a private room, she asked him to “shoot it to me straight.” He told her it wasn’t good, and she needed a biopsy as soon as possible. A few days later, another doctor confirmed her worst fears.
She has comforted everyone she’s told, from her family to the students she teaches at Stansbury High.
“I just told really close friends at first,” she said. “I wanted a game plan. I knew I had to tell my Hope Squad. They were the first students I told.”
Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer program that teaches students to help other teens with mental health and emotional issues like depression and suicide. She also supervises the EdNET program.
“It’s the most amazing group of kids you will ever work with,” she said. “They’ve done an amazing job, and I know they’ve saved lives, literally.”
A lot of tears have been shed in the wake of Broadhead’s diagnosis. But there has also been a lot of hope and an outpouring of support that has sustained her in ways she never expected. Saturday was one of those moments when the love and support eclipsed any fear or struggle that accompanies a disease that afflicts one in eight women.
The Swing for Life Tournament was started by Rowland Hall softball coach Kathy Howa in the wake of her own cancer fight. She hoped by raising money for cancer research at Huntsman Cancer Institute, she could both educate people about the realities of cancer while raising money to eradicate the disease.
Her effort has spawned thousands of Pink Game events from prep contests to college games and even the Bees and Grizzlies. In all, the events have raised more than $1.3 million. Just this weekend, the softball teams involved in the tournament raised more than $15,000.
On Tuesday, both the baseball and softball teams will host Pink Games, where they will honor Broadhead while raising money for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She will throw out the first pitch at the baseball game as the community rallies to raise money that will be donated in her name. Clinton said it is a reminder that high school sports are about more than wins and loses.
“It just shows the girls how important that those connections you make with people are,” Clinton said. “We play softball because it’s fun, but at the end of the day, that’s not all it’s about. It’s about family, friends and the people you make connections with.”
The players also have an opportunity to learn about grace and grit when faced with adversity.
“It’s been a rough year for her,” Clinton said. “The kids see her every day. They see what she’s gone through and she’s been so positive about it. That fight can really keep you down, but she’s been amazing. It’s good for them to see that.”
It’s a chance to do something that may impact their own lives as research continues to make battling cancer a much more winnable fight. It is a chance to support a woman who has supported them.
And that, Broadhead said, makes any challenge seem smaller.
“The greatest healing you can have is support from others,” Broadhead said. “It’s in your head, your mind, having a positive attitude. I think that’s super important in a situation like this. It changes things.”