Mary Gillespie wasn’t sure what the future held or if she would have one at all.
The Bishop Ford assistant girls basketball coach was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer 19 years ago. She had kids nearing high school age and was coaching CYO at Holy Name in Park Slope where she lives.
“It was really devastating because honestly here I was thinking I wasn’t going to live to see them grow up,” Gillespie said.
She did six months of chemotherapy and beat it. Though she couldn’t always make games and practices, basketball helped her get through the tough times. Gillespie considers herself blessed and lucky for being alive and doing what she loves. Not only did she get to see her son and daughter grow up, but is now doing the same with her grandchildren.
“I’ve always done basketball,” said Gillespie, who is in her eighth year with the Falcons. “Even while I was getting chemo I was still coaching grammar school girls because I think mentally that was really good for me, just mentally doing what I’ve always done.”
It’s one of the many reasons why breast cancer awareness games mean just a little bit more for her. Gillespie was on the bench for the host Falcons’ 62-45 loss to Christ the King on Feb. 3. All the proceeds from the game went to the Brooklyn chapter of the American Cancer Society. The two teams, in honor of Coaches vs. Cancer, played with a white and pink ball, pink warm up shirts and pink shoelaces to help raise awareness about the disease.
“Cancer affects a lot of people in the world so it’s nice to play and help raise money for the people out there,” Falcons forward Brittany Lewis said. … “We are girls, we like to wear pink. It’s a change from the rest of the season. It’s fun.”
The fundraising efforts by the participating Brooklyn schools raises up to $10,000 a year, according to Peter Ostermann, their director of managerial development. The organization does a breast cancer walk in October and a Relay for Life in June. They provide cards for those who gave donations to write their name on and get posted on the gym’s wall.
“I think it’s a great thing just to let people know that there are a lot of people who have battled it, fought it or are still battling through it,” said Ford coach Mike Toro, who gave Gillespie the game ball.
The team on the other bench knows what losing someone to cancer is like. The Christ the King players watched Terrel Hunt, a member of the school’s football and boys basketball teams, deal with losing his mother Katrina to ovarian cancer last year.
“We try to play these games the hardest because we feel like we have a guardian angel looking over us,” guard Bria Smith said.
Gillespie said she hasn’t told all the girls on the team about surviving breast cancer, but is considering taking a more proactive approach and encouraging them to give involved in the walk in Prospect Park.
“When I was growing up nobody ever talked about stuff like that,” Gillespie said. “I think as young women that they will be more careful about checking themselves.”