CLEVELAND — It was a simple gesture that kept growing throughout the night and ended up meaning so much to a local woman battling cancer.
“Just really encouraging,” says Jessica Atwood as she remembers her mother, Judy.
Judy May was always Jessica’s biggest cheerleader, but the roles reversed in 1999 when Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer. After years of fighting, then remission, then re-diagnosis and fighting some more, Judy passed away in 2016. The loss left an unmistakable void in Jessica’s world.
“You never get over it, you just learn how to live with that feeling,” says Atwood. “You adapt to that grief.”
As time passed, Jessica began to learn how to get by without her biggest supporter. However, as life often can, it decided to throw her another major curveball. At the age of 36, Jessica was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Atwood says, “I never want the job of the woman who has to call you and tell you that you have cancer.”
As she continues to fight, she’s starting to find new cheerleaders in unexpected places. She and her family went to the Cleveland Indians game on Wednesday night, where Franmil Reyes was told about her situation and decided to do something.
“He tosses this ball to my husband and my husband is, ‘okay, thanks,’ and he kind of stops,” says Atwood. “He’s standing there for a second and my husband looks down at the ball. I just see tears in his eyes, he hands it over to me and I just start crying. I’ve never cried at a baseball game before.”
The ball was nice, but the evening would just get better.
Reyes, recounting the at-bat to Bally Sports Great Lakes, says, “I was like, 'this is not enough, this baseball is not enough.' So, when I was on deck, I said 'please God, I know it’s been tough these couple days at the plate.' I didn’t ask for a homer, but this at-bat I wanted to do something special for Jessica.”
Reyes hit a home run to the bleachers of Progressive Field.
“Then, he rounds third and just finds my eye, points right to me,” says Atwood.
She and her family were ushered to the field after the game to meet Reyes and ended up returning home with pictures, several baseballs, gloves, and a bat--mementos that will help push her through the hard times.
Atwood says, “It’s kind of nice to be reminded that there are people who are like, you’ve got this. Sometimes, you do really need to feed off that extra energy.”
It was certainly a way to cheer her up, but she knows that her biggest cheerleader is still with her, rooting her on.
“My mom is gone, but she’s still here saving my life,” says Atwood. “She’s still my example for cancer doesn’t get to own my life.
Jessica says what’s she’s learned after living through it herself and with her mom is that it’s imperative for people to get tested. It’s recommended to start routine mammograms at 40 years old, but she began early because of her family history. Doctors told her that there’s no telling what would have happened if she waited.
Atwood says, “Don’t put those things off. Mammograms are only uncomfortable for 2 minutes, but 2 minutes is better than being dead for the rest of your life.”