The entire volleyball team rushed onto the center of the court and embraced each other in a group hug. Junior Leila Smith and her mother, Wendy, who battled colon cancer a few months ago and is this year’s Heart of a Marauder award recipient, stood in the middle. Their cheeks were stained with tears, but they smiled as the team surrounded them.
“It’s reassuring to know that I can go to anyone to talk about it,” Leila said. “I feel really supported. I feel loved.”
Less than a week before school started, Wendy was diagnosed. Despite her mother’s reassurance that this type of cancer is treatable, Leila’s stress lingered.
“The way she was explaining it to me [was] ‘If I got cancer this would be the best cancer I could’ve gotten. It’s easy to treat,’” Leila said. “But in the back of my mind I was worried.”
When Wendy had to stop working because of treatment, Leila got a job at Flower Child in Addison to help support her family. Meanwhile, she attended school and played JV volleyball.
“She stepped up,” Wendy said.
When junior Alex Warren saw what Leila was going through, she told her mother, Nicole Warren, who is the volleyball booster club president. After hearing the story, the booster club voted for Wendy to be honored at the Heart of a Marauder night.
This award was started in 2011 to honor history teacher Jesse Hood’s daughter, Lydia. Since then, it has helped someone annually, even those not involved with volleyball.
During the break between the JV red and the varsity games on Oct. 1, Wendy spoke to the crowd about her experience and received a large gift basket accompanied with a group hug by the entire JV red team.
At the event, attendees could donate $1 to have a red, heart-shaped card put on the wall of the MAC. In total, the event raised about $2,000 for Wendy’s cancer treatment, but the volleyball team didn’t just fundraise. While she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, players offered support for the family.
“We would not have survived this six weeks if it wasn’t for food being dropped off at our house by the volleyball team,” Wendy said. “It made the difference between me resting and me cooking.”
Leila still has her job at Flower Child and Wendy finished her last round of treatment on Sept. 26. The family said that the team’s support was comforting throughout her treatment.
“It was reassuring to have that stable backbone throughout the whole process,” Leila said.