Her daughters provided Beth Thomas both hope and determination in the four years since doctors told her she had breast cancer.
Through those difficult, often heartbreaking times, Beth met every obstacle and accepted each challenge so that she could spend as much time as possible with daughters Shaelynn Myers, now 18, and Lariah Myers, 9.
“They’re my main reason for fighting,” said Thomas, 43, who has Stage 4 breast cancer.
“When I was diagnosed I really honestly didn’t think I’d see Shae graduate. To see her graduate and go on to college to play softball makes me so happy.
“She gave me a reason to keep fighting. I have a 9-year-old. I have to keep fighting.”
Softball has enabled Thomas and her family to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer.
Shaelynn Myers, a recent graduate of Greater Johnstown High School, is one of the top scholastic players in the region with 37 career pitching wins and 469 strikeouts. A four-year starter for the Trojans, Myers signed a letter-of-intent to continue her education and softball career at Seton Hill University, a NCAA Division II program in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“I look to my mom as a fighter,” Myers said. “She got through a lot of things by fighting.
“I look at her as a great role model. I’ve always looked up to her and saw a great woman who fought through things to get what she wants.”
‘We Fight Together’
Last summer, Thomas organized a “We Fight Together” softball event played at the Greater Johnstown Youth League fields.
The gathering brought together families with loved ones affected by cancer, while raising a modest amount of money, Thomas said.
This year, with the support of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, the “Play for Pink Charity Fund” was established. Benefit softball games will be held Aug. 2 at the V.E. Erickson/Arbutus fields.
“The first year there were a lot of people there, more than I thought would be there. It was a good turnout,” Shaelynn Myers said. “It wasn’t about winning. It was about everyone having a good time and playing together.”
Thomas got the idea after her family participated in an Inheritance of Hope program.
The non-profit organization “inspires hope in young families facing the loss of a parent through counseling and retreat programs” that help “navigate the challenges of a parent’s terminal illness.”
“They sent our family to New York because I am a Stage 4 breast cancer fighter,” Thomas said. “They take families like ours, with children under 18, on a legacy retreat. It’s more for children facing the loss of a parent.
“I’m a Stage 4 cancer survivor, fighter,” she said. “I don’t know when my cancer will start growing again. They try to help you create memories.
“The kids got to meet kids their age so they could build friendships for life. The parents were doing the same. I was inspired to do something to give back to them.”
‘It’s not easy’
Thomas, who is employed by Forever Broadcasting, said the Inheritance of Hope program made her think even more about her daughters and the struggles families such as hers encounter.
“Kids can be overlooked,” she said. “As somebody who went through it with two young kids, it’s not easy. That’s why I love Inheritance of Hope. That one weekend, it felt like our family was normal. There was no sickness. It was just fun.”
She intends to make the “Play for Pink Charity Fund” softball event an annual tradition. Shaelynn Myers will play a significant role, perhaps for years to come.
Kecia Bal, communications officer with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, noted, “Shaelynn is our youngest fund representative ever.”
This year’s softball event will include five age divisions: 8 and under; 10 and under; 12 and under; 15 and under, and 18 and over.
A ceremony will highlight family members and others whom girls on each team are honoring through their play.
‘A good leader’
Shaelynn’s involvement in such a special project doesn’t surprise Greater Johnstown softball coach Rick Bicko.
“She’s a good leader,” Bicko said. “She’s a good teammate, always picking up the other players when they’re down. She leads by example.
“Shae is always looking for community service projects,” Bicko added. “Even in high school, she got a clinic together for the youth players. Last year, she did the cancer charity softball game. She and her family are very involved with the community.”
Thomas talked about the 2018 “We Fight Together” softball games with pride and satisfaction.
She chuckled when noting that “almost all the games ended in tie scores.”
“Really, truly, it was just all fun,” Thomas said.
“Everybody was laughing and having a good time. There were 109 girls playing that night. There were probably 500 people there throughout the evening.”
Softball. Family. Community.
The inaugural event gave a fighter plenty of reasons to smile.
Thomas looks forward to the second year as “Play for Pink” nears.
She appreciates every inning, every game and each tie score.
“I was diagnosed in June 2015,” Thomas said. “I have been stable. My cancer hasn’t been growing for three years.
“I’m a believer if you keep on going, a positive attitude makes a huge difference.”