Wearing their hearts on their sleeves

Baby pink material wrapped the arms of football players gathered in the Shelby County High School gymnasium Sept. 18 when Dawn Rasco, a mother of a senior cheerleader, walked in to take pictures of the day’s pep rally.

The spirited display of color wasn’t in response to the night’s game, but instead in support of Rasco, who discovered the previous Monday she had breast cancer.

“I just cried and cried and cried. They’re my boys,” Rasco said. “I am in awe that they did this for me.”

Rasco originally thought one of her three daughters ­— Bari, Lauren or Jessica — had asked their friends to get involved. Instead, the plan originated from senior football players Braten Dill, Kevin McNorton and Austin Shelton after they learned of Rasco’s diagnosis from her middle daughter Lauren.

“We basically live at her house — she’s like our second mother,” Dill said. “She’s involved in all the football stuff, baseball stuff and other sports.”

So, when the guys dressed out for their game against Sylacauga, they also sported baby pink wristbands and pink ribbon emblems on their helmets.

Thinking pink didn’t stop at the guys carrying the pigskin though.

It spread.

“It wasn’t just the football team. We have a pep squad and they painted their faces pink, the band and color guard wore pink ribbons, even people in the student section wore it. It was really sweet,” Lauren said, tearing up.

McNorton said this gave students an opportunity to repay the support Rasco’s always shown them.

“She shows up at all our games even when her daughters aren’t involved,” McNorton said. “We just wanted to show her how important she is to us.”

Head Coach Ryan Herring said he knows how much Rasco means to the guys.

“There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to support her,” Herring said. “The game is really important to us, but Miss Rasco’s health, her life, is more important to us. These guys put her first.”

Rasco said doctors are optimistic about her health. She discovered a knot-like lump in her right breast in May. Although she waited until September to have it checked out, doctors believe the disease is contained.

Rasco has no history of breast cancer in her family. She breast-fed all three of her daughters. She took birth control, but not for too long. The one thing she didn’t do was begin regular self-breast exams or yearly mammograms at a younger age.

“Where I was supposed to get them at 40 I waited until I was 46 and discovered a lump to really be concerned,” Rasco said. “Even when I found it, I didn’t think it was anything.

“I didn’t have the classic signs. It didn’t feel like a B.B. All I can tell people is, ‘Don’t wait.’”

Rasco already serves as an awareness advocate.

“Several of the other mothers have asked me questions about what I’m going through. Most of the time I tell them, ‘Here, you need to know what it feels like,” she said reaching under her shirt and touching one of the three spots.

Rasco said people seem surprised when she jokes about what’s happening to her. But she said if she didn’t laugh, she might cry, and that’s not how she wants to live.

“I could curl up and sob, but there’s so many people watching — especially my girls — I don’t want them scared,” she said. “I’m not scared of the cancer. I know they’re (doctors) going to get it, and I know I’m going to be okay, I’m just worried about my day-to-day.”

Rasco met with surgeons earlier this week to discuss the double mastectomy she’ll soon undergo. Rasco said she isn’t too concerned about loosing her breasts.

She simply told the surgeons, “You just have to do it on a Monday or Tuesday, we’ve got football on Friday.”