By Jano Tantongco
The Half Hollow Hills West girls varsity basketball team had its annual Coaches vs Cancer game on Jan. 28, raising over $750 for a cholangiocarcinoma fund through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which was initiated by Lauren Bilyeu, a friend of the team who was diagnosed with the form of bile duct cancer in January 2013.
Former coach of the team, Sue Dittrich-Smith, is Lauren’s sister. She currently teaches districtwide as a health and physical education teacher. She mostly teaches at High School West.
“I felt personally very proud that they still wanted to do that for me and my sister. Most of them have witnessed last year what a difficult time I had,” said Dittrich-Smith. “They are a great group of kids that got behind me right away.”
Alyse McAlpine, a senior and point guard of the team, said she was saddened when she discovered that Bilyeu was diagnosed.
“Seeing her go through this whole situation was heartbreaking,” McAlpine said. “We wanted to all come together and somehow get the word out.”
Bilyeu was initially diagnosed in January 2013, she said. Surgeons removed the tumor, but her physicians told her that the cancer would eventually return. Two years later, it had metastasized and her doctors told her that it was incurable and that she wouldn’t have very long left to live. By December 2015, it spread to her lymphatic system.
“They were talking about hospice,” she said.
Since she was diagnosed, she has channeled her efforts into fundraising for the Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Hepatobiliary Service Fund, which focuses on her form of cancer, as well as other liver cancers. To date, she has raised $40,768, with her goal being $100,000.
The Hills West fundraiser has helped her come a bit closer to her mark. The Colts have donated to her fund for the last three years.
During this year’s game, the Colts played at home against West Babylon, winning 58-44, said coach Bryan Dugan.
“It’s a nice way to raise awareness [and] get the girls involved,” Dugan said. “It’s a no brainer.”
Both teams wore pink, said Dugan, who sported a pink tie that day. The funds were raised through cash donations, a 50-50 raffle and donated food items that were sold during the game.
Bilyeu said she was “absolutely floored” by the Colts efforts to donate.
“I’m touched by the Hills West community,” she said. “It’s things like that that keep me moving forward.”