Justine Plourde, a Lynn woman battling Stage 4 breast cancer, was overwhelmed when she learned the Swampscott High School girls’ soccer team was making a $1,500 donation to help with her medical expenses.
The Swampscott High varsity and junior varsity girls’ soccer teams donated after coming across the gofundme page of Plourde, whose husband, J.R., is a reserve officer for the Nahant Police Department. So far, the page has raised more than $12,000.
“It was just truly overwhelming,” Justine said. “To the girls, thank you from the bottom of our hearts because it just means so much. We hope that we can get through this and we hope we can give back to somebody else who’s in the same situation. Hopefully, we can repay what everyone has done for us.”
Nahant Police Officer Tim Furlong, J.R.’s best friend, said Justine’s diagnosis turned his and their world upside down. From out of the blue, he said a Nahant resident, Erin DiGrande, called the police department and said her daughter was raising money for breast cancer.
When police got the call, Furlong said he was fighting back tears, which is similar to how he said Justine reacted.
“(Justine and J.R.) said it was overwhelming to get the support from not only the people of Nahant, but teenagers doing the right thing,” Furlong said. “It’s very heartwarming.”
The 46 girls from the soccer program, comprised of Nahant and Swampscott residents, hold two fundraisers each year. Their cookie dough sales around Labor Day cover most of their expenses for their season, and also allow them to purchase pink jerseys and socks, which they wear during October home games in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But this year, the girls were left with a unique situation. Their fundraising efforts left them with surplus funds, which the players knew they wanted to put toward a good cause. The seniors and DiGrande, the Booster mom for the high school girls soccer program, kicked around some ideas and then came across Plourde’s story on Facebook.
The check was presented to Justine, J.R., and their children — the couple has a 5-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son who attend Lynn Public Schools — during the soccer team’s recent Senior Day home game.
“It just made it so much more real and personal to say ‘hi’ to the people we were helping out, to see our efforts made a direct impact,” said Maddy Foutes, a 17-year-old team captain.
Another team captain, Grace DiGrande, Erin’s daughter, said the family was really appreciative and honored that a team would reach out to them in ways that not all teams would.
“We wanted to put the money toward something bigger than the high school, the real world,” she said.
Kayla Kornitsky, 17, also a team captain, said the check presentation was a nice moment to have on their Senior Day. It was nice to see how appreciative they were, she added.
Justine, 39, was diagnosed on July 5. The diagnosis came as a shock because she was initially being treated for a back injury. She took a fall at work in May and ended up back in the hospital with a fractured back by the end of June. Around the same time, she found a lump in her breast, which she thought was a strained muscle due to her fall.
Her doctor scheduled a mammogram in addition to a biopsy. About a week later she found out she had breast cancer. The following week, she had another procedure done on her back where it had fractured and another biopsy on her spine, which showed that the cancer had spread.
“It was a huge shock, like a continuous punch in the stomach,” Justine said.
Justine is doing chemotherapy by pills right now. She underwent radiation until she could start the chemo pill. She said she’s taking things day by day — the cancer is in her shoulder, spine, breast, hips and pelvis, and has made its way into her bones, meaning that there’s no cure. She’ll have to take medication for the rest of her life.
“It’s day to day,” she said. “Some days are good and some days are crappy. There’s some days where I can’t get out of bed for two days and some where I can’t get out of bed for a week.”
The hope, Justine said, is that the next set of scans will show that the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else, which would mean that the pills are working.
She’s hoping her story will serve as a cautionary tale. If people feel like there’s something wrong, they shouldn’t be afraid to get it checked out. In her case, she said she didn’t think her lump was anything and found out it was cancer that had been there in her breast for six to 12 months before it spread. Doctors don’t recommend regular mammograms for women under 40, so Justine hadn’t had a previous mammogram.
Despite her situation, Justine is grateful for all the support her family has received since her diagnosis, including the girls’ donation.
“The girls were just amazing,” Justine said. “We just truly are so thankful for them to have chosen us.”