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Mom, cancer survivor turned to Tigers for smiles

2018 Honorary Bat Girl Rathbun reminds others to 'live every day to the fullest'
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- Shelly Rathbun faced 11 surgeries, 10 rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation treatment after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in February 2011. The Tigers began their run of four consecutive American League Central titles that year. She credits the latter with helping her get through the former, becoming a fan of Justin Verlander, Brandon Inge and Ian Kinsler

"It was a good distraction," she said. "I used to watch Tigers games during chemo. We came here several times. It was great."

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DETROIT -- Shelly Rathbun faced 11 surgeries, 10 rounds of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation treatment after she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in February 2011. The Tigers began their run of four consecutive American League Central titles that year. She credits the latter with helping her get through the former, becoming a fan of Justin Verlander, Brandon Inge and Ian Kinsler

"It was a good distraction," she said. "I used to watch Tigers games during chemo. We came here several times. It was great."

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2018 Honorary Bat Girls

Never did she imagine during that time that she would be on the mound one Mother's Day, throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday's 5-4 win over the Mariners as the Honorary Bat Girl while about 500 cancer survivors watched, all wearing pink.

"It's like a dream come true," Rathbun said.

Tweet from @tigers: Happy #MothersDay to all of our #TigersMoms and #Tigers fans! pic.twitter.com/4JSXjW1QHN

Rathbun not only is a survivor, she's a proud mother, having raised her two daughters through the fight. She was determined not to leave them after their father passed away shortly before her diagnosis. After her fight, she has become a mentor for many women in their cancer battles, letting them know what to expect and assuring them they're not going through the struggle alone.

"I've had quite a few people that have contacted me just when they're starting treatment, or they're going through treatment and have something going on," Rathbun said. "Just somebody that's been through it before. I had somebody that did the same thing for me. It's nothing official, but somebody to call on and let them know what's going to happen."

The message she gives to fighters is simple.

"It's going to be a really rough time," Rathbun said. "But it gets better. You have such a great appreciation for life afterward. Every day is special. Live every day to the fullest."

Shop Tigers Mother's Day gear

John Hicks caught Rathbun's first pitch as well as two others. He knows the fight that breast cancer patients go through, having watched his mother fight the disease since 2015. She has beaten two occurrences and is currently battling a third.

"Going out and catching the first pitch from breast cancer survivors and seeing all the ladies on the field, it definitely hits home for me," Hicks said. "My mom, she's been through it. She's still fighting and she's doing great. It's great to shine a light on this horrible disease. You see how many people are affected by it with all the signs and all the people that were here today. It's great that we have this day and show how much our moms mean to us."

Hicks was one of several Tigers players using pink bats during the game to help raise awareness. So was leadoff hitter Mikie Mahtook, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and beat the disease. Others included JaCoby Jones, whose leadoff base hit started the game-winning rally in the ninth, and shortstop Jose Iglesias, who hit the walk-off single two batters later. Niko Goodrum churned out his first career three-hit game using a pink bat.

Video: SEA@DET: Iglesias hits a walk-off single in the 9th

Proceeds from all gear sold will go to Susan G. Komen and SU2C, which is celebrating its 10th season.

In addition to Major League Baseball's efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer, Sunday marked the seventh annual Pink Out the Park Day at Comerica Park, as the Tigers honored breast cancer fighters and survivors. The first 10,000 fans received a pink Tigers cap, while the Tigers offered a Pink Out the Park Day ticket package that included a donation to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. Over the past six years, Pink Out the Park Day has raised more than $115,000 to support breast cancer research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

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