Rochelle Little League celebrates National Cancer Survivor Month

Lupe Ponce tosses the ceremonial first pitch at Floyd J. Tilton Park on Tuesday, when Rochelle Little League celebrated National Cancer Survivor Month. (Photo by Russell Hodges)

Rochelle native Ponce tosses ceremonial first pitch

ROCHELLE — Rochelle native Lupe Ponce remembers the hard days she faced after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009. But through her faith and the support of her family and friends, Ponce successfully persevered and entered remission roughly five years ago.

Families and residents learned about Ponce’s battle with cancer Tuesday evening, when Rochelle Little League held its annual ceremony at Floyd J. Tilton Park in recognition of June as National Cancer Survivor Month. Ponce, whose father passed away from cancer, threw out the ceremonial first pitch as the #WeWillRockYou banner flew from above the first-base dugout.

“It was an honor to be truthful,” Ponce said. “It’s been a struggle for me every day. If I can bring some awareness to this type of cancer and encourage people to speak with their doctors… Doing this today meant a lot to me, especially because my father passed away from cancer and he was unaware of it. It was very meaningful for me to be here today.”

Tuesday’s ceremony began with umpire Albert Burciaga explaining the origin of the ceremony and the meaning behind the #WeWillRockYou hashtag. After a brief speech to the fans in attendance, three Rochelle Little League players (Trent Kreider, Ariana Hueramo and Quentin Ansteth) placed the first, second and third bases, all of which were painted pink along with the left and right-field foul lines, on the infield diamond of the Major League Boys field.

“What National Cancer Survivor Month means to us is that we’re acknowledging your fight and celebrating your life,” Burciaga said. “We know it’s a long and painful experience not only for you, but for your family and friends. But after that long experience, we’re here to celebrate the fact that you’ve survived. For all of you who are in remission, we want you to keep fighting.”

With the bases ready, Little Leaguer Johnny Chadwick presented the ceremonial ball to Ponce at the pitcher’s mound, who then threw the ball to Chadwick behind home plate to conclude the ceremony. Lions then took the field as “We Will Rock You” by Queen played on the speaker.

Teams from various levels of Rochelle Little League lined the outfield during the ceremony.

“This is proof that you will beat this,” Burciaga said. “There is hope and we will fight with you. For all of those who have moved on because of this, we celebrate your life and we will always remember you in our special way. We’re here to dedicate this day and this month to all of you. We’ve figured out a way for our community to come together and acknowledge this… We are sending cancer a message. We’re going to beat you and we’re going to rock you.”

Ponce said that indescribable fatigue, weight gain and joint pain are only a few of the challenges she’s faced since her thyroid cancer diagnosis. Ponce, who will be on medication for the remainder of her life after having one half of her thyroid removed, said the best advice she could offer to those currently battling cancer are to be persistent and to keep the faith.

“There will be days where you feel that you can’t see the light,” Ponce said. “But things will get better. I remind myself of that every day because I still struggle during some days. There will be a better tomorrow and there are better medicines and treatment plans now.”

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