Most would argue it was a random meeting.
Signing up for an elective art class is mostly an afterthought, but when it comes to the relationship between Maddie Decker and Francesca Olguin there is so much more — like facing their mortality — to ponder.
Yet there they were last school year, crossing paths. Decker, a senior at Mountain Pointe, was sitting across from Olguin, a sophomore, when the latter, as she has been known to do, started talking to the friendly smile nearby.
“She was talking to everyone, but for some reason we connected,” Decker said. “There was something about Francesca that drew me to her.”
They both played softball for the Pride a year ago and got to know each other even more as their relationship grew.
“Maddie was really friendly with me,” said Anissa Blair, Olguin’s mother. “Something struck me about her. I was glad they became close.”
But the true definition of their relationship didn’t come to light until this fall when they were diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks apart.
The news is frightening and life-altering. In that moment people react differently as they tend to breakout in a cold sweat, go numb and freeze up. Or all of it and more.
“I can’t even remember my emotions,” Decker said. “Everything happened so fast. I was probably in denial and I’ve since blocked it out. It is not something you want to remember.”
It isn’t easy to share, either.
Everyone has done it at one time or another. Someone tells you bad news and it’s like an automated response — the head tilts to one side, the voice becomes hushed and a variation of the phrase, “How are you doing?” is uttered.
It is well intended but after the umpteenth time the pity pose just becomes a reminder of their illness.
That wasn’t the case between Olguin and Decker. When they realized they were both facing cancer they shared a hug and tears. They have been there for each other ever since.
“It didn’t make me feel good that someone else was going through it,” Decker said. “I wasn’t happy about it, but it did help having someone know what you were going through. You are run down, going to the doctors all of the time, and just never feeling right.
“We could send a text to each other or whatever, and share what we were feeling.”
What the both felt this spring was the void of missing the softball season. Olguin played varsity as a freshman, along with running cross country and track, while Decker was going to make the jump to varsity her final season.
The Hodgkin’s (Decker) and thyroid (Olguin) diagnosis for each took care of that. It hit the team hard as well. They did all that they could to support their teammates afterward, but it never seemed like enough.
A community coming together
That’s when the idea of a charity game developed. Originally the plan was to host it before the season started, but it didn’t work out logistically.
Eventually all involved, including the Pride baseball team, came up with the idea of a slow-pitch charity game between the Pride softball and baseball teams using a 16-inch softball and it has come to fruition.
The two teams are squaring off at the Pride softball field on Thursday, May 17 at 3:30 p.m.
There is no charge to attend but they are accepting donations for general admission with all of the proceeds going to the girls and their families to help with their substantial medical bills.
The hope is that the Ahwatukee Foothills community, as it has been known to do, rallies around these two girls and helps out with the cause.
“These are two wonderful girls that have tackled their problems like they approach sports — all out,” Pride softball coach Mel Wendell said. “They are two of the best individuals you could ever meet.”
The girls are excited about the game. They’ve been laid up, too tired and completely on the outside of the game, for the last six months.
They will throw out the first pitch — along with Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Baca — and participate in the game as much as possible.
“When I first heard about it, it really made me feel good and let me know how much they cared about us,” Olguin said. “It shows me kids are willing to do something for each other even if they don’t know each other.”
Beyond the game the future is promising
Decker, who was first diagnosed on Oct. 4 after she found a golf ball-sized lump in her neck, and further tests found a grapefruit-sized mass on her lung and smaller ones on her spleen, found out she was in remission about three weeks ago.
She has been accepted at Arizona State and is ready to take on anything that comes her way, as she has already proved she can handle just about anything.
“I wanted to scream as loud as I could, throw my hands in the air and just go crazy,” Decker said about finding out she was in remission. “I’ve been through a lot and know that I’m ready for anything life throws me.”
Olguin, who had two surgeries, with the first coming on Dec. 1 to remove a mass in her neck, still has a way to go. The surgery was more evasive as expected and she has lost some strength in her right arm.
“It is the worst thing to have to tell your child,” Blair said. “It is a horrific feeling and makes you sick. We are not out of the woods yet.”
The tumors in her lung have shrunk and she is past the chemotherapy and radiation for now. She is getting her blood tested and body scanned, but Olguin is beginning to feel like herself again.
“It was so hard missing cross country and softball,” she said. “I had no energy, gained a lot of weight (because of the medication) and wasn’t doing something athletic like I always have done, but now I am getting to the point where I feel like I can start doing stuff again.”
How they will progress from here is tough to forecast, but Decker, who lives in Maricopa and open enrolled to the school, believes she gained strength from attending Mountain Pointe.
“Everyone was so accepting,” she said. “I feel like if I went to a different school people would have gawked (when she lost her hair) and wouldn’t understand, but that wasn’t the case. All of the students and teachers, people I didn’t even know, sent me messages on Facebook or texted me and said how proud they were of me.
“I didn’t want to go there (as a freshman) because I didn’t know anyone, but I am so glad. Everyone there has made a difference.”
Especially, that chatty girl across from her in art class.
A charity fund has been set up for the two athletes at Wells Fargo under the account name Decker and Olguin Charity Fund. Donations can also be mailed to Mountain Pointe High School, 4201 E. Knox Road, Phoenix, 85044, or people can drop off their donations at the May 17 softball game at Mountain Pointe.
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.