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Article updated: 7/10/2013 11:03 AM

Softball community rallies around one of its own

By Tara García Mathewson

Courtney LaFerle went to her doctor for an annual physical in June, not expecting any surprises.

She's not a stranger to random medical problems -- like needing her gallbladder removed or a transfusion because two-thirds of her blood was missing -- but even when her doctor found a small lump in her throat, LaFerle still figured it would be fine. The Elgin native and Larkin High School grad, has no history of thyroid cancer in her family, she's only 27 years old, and she's a healthy athlete.

But on June 26, LaFerle got the call. Her tumor was malignant. She'll have surgery later this month to get it removed -- along with her thyroid -- and a plan is already in place for treatments that will hopefully leave her cancer-free. Patients with thyroid cancer caught so quickly often have great success, according to the American Cancer Society.

In the meantime, LaFerle's medical bills are mounting and her surgery is expected to put her in debt even with good health insurance.

LaFerle has been a part of Northern Illinois Lightning Fastpitch Softball for almost a decade as a player and, more recently, a coach. The softball community has jumped to her aid with a list of fundraisers planned for the coming weeks.

And LaFerle has been overwhelmed with the support.

"At first I didn't know if I was going to put it out there and tell people, but I'm so glad I did," LaFerle said. "I can't even put it into words."

Doctors tested LaFerle's lymph nodes after discovering the tumor was cancerous to see if the disease had spread. When she posted on Facebook that it had not, she had 100 likes within an hour.

John Radtke, Daily Herald Fox Valley Sports Editor and Lightning Founder, has seen a similar response to fundraising efforts for LaFerle. At the suggestion of a softball parent, Radtke ordered 250 wristbands in the teal, blue and pink thyroid cancer colors that say "No one fights alone." Within two hours more than half of them were sold.

The cost for each bracelet is $5, but Radtke said very few people have bought them for the base price. One donor paid $100 for a single wristband.

LaFerle is still paying for her gallbladder surgery from last December. The fundraising goal is to help LaFerle pay off that debt before her latest surgery and get a cushion in advance of her coming bills.

"It's not just the money," Radtke said. "It's the peace of mind she'll get to know this money is coming."

The Lightning host the Amateur Softball Association of America 18U "A" Chicago Metro Championship Thursday through Sunday at the Elgin Sports Complex. The region's best high school fastpitch softball athletes will come together for the biggest such tournament in the league's history and its first in Elgin. Forty-five teams have signed up to play a total of 138 games during the long weekend.

The lead fundraisers in the Friends of Courtney effort hope to sell plenty of bracelets during the tournament and get the word out about a Go Fund Me website where people can donate online.

They will also announce a Friends of Courtney benefit, to be held from 7 to 10 p.m. July 25 at Amici's Clubhouse in South Elgin. Cost is $20, half of which will go toward an appetizer, salad and pizza buffet. A DJ will provide music and silent auctions and raffles are planned for the evening.

LaFerle likely will not be able to make the benefit as her surgery is tentatively scheduled for July 18.

So far she has been keeping a blog about her experience with cancer. For now the forum helps her keep people up-to-date and gives her a release for the thoughts that keep her up at night. She hopes to eventually be a contact for other people going through the same thing.

LaFerle won't have a thyroid this time next month, but she hopes the fight will give her a chance to help others and do so as a cancer survivor.

Ÿ Email northernillinoislightning@gmail.com to order wristbands.

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