×

Cornhole tourney helps Canfield woman fighting breast cancer

BOARDMAN — “She’s so strong, kind and brave.”

Those words are more than casual musings many children express when asked to describe their parents. In the case of Ava Milligan, 12, they carry extra weight and significance.

For the Canfield Village Middle School seventh-grader, the words describe the strength she sees her mother, Jamie Milligan, has while handling the daily struggles that come with a breast cancer diagnosis.

Another major source of uplift for Ava was seeing the large number of people — many wearing pink shirts in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month — gathered on behalf of her mother, who was diagnosed two years ago with stage 4 breast cancer.

Jamie Milligan was the recipient of funds raised from Sunday’s first Apple Warrior Breast Cancer Cornhole Tournament in Boardman Park.

“I’m beyond humbled,” said Michelle Apple, event organizer, referring to the fact that 34 teams participated in the four-hour single-elimination competition fundraiser, which far exceeded her expectation of 10 to 12 teams.

Apple, herself a breast-cancer survivor, was highly elated because her initial goal of raising $2,000 to help Milligan with hotel, travel, gasoline and other out-of-pocket expenses related to her treatments was surpassed early in the tournament. The event raised $10,053 — five times the initial goal.

Milligan was unable to attend, however, because of a weakened immune system from a recent chemotherapy treatment, though she was kept in the loop via a video chat app, Apple said.

Jamie Milligan’s mother, Tracey Meyers of Struthers, described her daughter as a fierce competitor who refuses to be defined by her disease. Jamie Milligan, a former bodybuilder, derives tremendous strength from the amount of support she’s receiving, Meyers said.

“She’s kicking cancer to the curb,” Meyers added. “She hates to lose, thank goodness.”

Nevertheless, Jamie’s battle with breast cancer is hard on Ava, who’s forced to endure something no child should have to, “a parent’s worst nightmare,” Meyers said.

Many breast cancer survivors found camaraderie with one another at the cornhole gathering and picnic, including Barbara West of Cortland, who received a diagnosis in August 2016 after a mammogram revealed she had a mass about 1 inch in diameter.

She had an MRI and a biopsy at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital close to the time she had undergone a double-knee replacement. After a lumpectomy and a second surgery, West was informed that the cancer was not completely gone, so on Feb. 7, 2017, she had a mastectomy.

“That was the day I became a survivor,” said West, who has had neither chemotherapy nor radiation treatments because of other health concerns, but takes a prescribed pill daily.

West added her mission is to encourage more women to conduct self-exams and schedule mammograms, as well as to reach out to those who are struggling with the disease. West, who sees an oncologist twice annually, also is a member of the Joanie’s Sisters Support Group for survivors.

“I want to live every single day to the max,” said West, who noted that early detection often saves lives.

Also determined to do that is Carla White, who learned she had breast cancer Nov. 1, 2016, after a routine mammogram revealed a small tumor.

“I went through chemo and radiation with flying colors, and I thank God for that every day,” the Austintown woman said, adding that she underwent 30 radiation treatments in a single month at the Cleveland Clinic.

“I’ve met wonderful people who are going through or are done with their journey,” she said.

Before learning that she had cancer, White found out her son was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that originates from white blood cells called lymphocytes, she said.

Ask West about how to be supportive of someone dealing with breast cancer, and she’ll be quick to point out that the seemingly smallest gestures can leave the most indelible imprint on someone.

“I give the women I reach out to a hug.”

news@tribtoday.com