Columbia, SC (WLTX) Saturday is the first Carolina football game at home as the Gamecocks take on the East Carolina University Pirates, but before the teams go into battle on the grid iron, a cancer survivor will ring the bell of victory in her battle with cancer.
A partnership between SCOA CARES, the non profit that helps patients at South Carolina Oncology Associates and the university is raising awareness about the disease and the fight against it.
Cindy Steel will ring the bell this weekend. In 2014, she was diagnosed with stage two, grade 3A, Follicular Lymphoma. She tells News 19, "It's a blood born cancer and it was in my abdomen."
It's Steeles heart, though, along with the support system she's had around her, that's helped her get to her goal of remission. She says, "January of 2016, I met my one year of being clear. So now I'm in clinical trials because right now you can go in remission, but there is no cure. I think ringing the bell is a renewal. And this means that we fought, we beat a battle, and we're there to help others fight the battle."
The SCOA CARES Foundation was part of Steele's support system. Board President, Andrew Eckstrom says the non-profit is a totally volunteer run organization that provides services such as transportation, pharmacy grants, imaging grants, refreshments and blankets to patients, cobra assistance, etc. In the 10 years as a non-profit, they've served thousands of people during their battle with cancer. Eckstrom says, "It influences just about everybody that comes in the door. In small ways and then obviously for those that need financial support, both in the immediate and onging. It makes a larger effect for them."
Steele tells News 19, SCOA CARES helped her with transportation to MD Anderson and with a pharmacy grant, among other things. She says,"There is never a reason not to fight. If you think its a financial reason, the thing about SCOA and SCOA CARES is their gonna treat you and their not gonna treat your pocketbook."
Eckstrom says, the partnership between SCOA CARES and the University of South Carolina is a great way to raise cancer awareness and awareness about what SCOA CARES does. He says, "It's a great opportunity to recognize the fight that people like Cindy have fought and the accomplishment that she has made in getting to remission."
Altough the stadium is empty on the practice day, come Saturday, those seats will be filled with some 80,000 cheering fans. Eckstrom says, "There is not a single person that's not aware of someone that is important to them that has gone through cancer. A lot of them have over come that and defeated it. And when they hear that bell, they can celebrate those loved ones that they know that have defeated it."
No matter which football team comes out on top on Saturday, Steele says her personal team has already helped her win. She says, "I have beaten the odds, I'm going to be around a lot longer. My family, my SCOA family, my university family, all got me through it." Steele works for the university and is currently going through clinical trials with hopes of prolonging her remission by 85- 90%, or she says even finding a cure. SCOA CARES will have a cancer survivor ring the victory bell before each of the first three home games.