LAUREL - Over the last decade, Montanans have become very familiar with Pack the Place in Pink, the annual breast cancer awareness fundraiser that litters volleyball gyms across the state. But this year, Laurel is trading in pink for lime green, for a very specific reason.
"Lime green is actually the lymphoma awareness ribbon color, so even though it’s our crosstown rival Billings Central's color - it’s kind of hard for Laurel to do that - it hit home for us," said Laurel head varsity volleyball coach Kortney Klein. "We have somebody personally affected by it, and so it was able for us to get around it as a family unit on the volleyball court as well as off the court.”
Last Christmas Eve, Laurel assistant coach Kelsey Fuentes heard the news no one ever wants to. The cancer diagnosis was a shock to her family.
“It was just heartbreaking," said Kelsey's cousin Paisley Hunter, who is a player on Laurel's freshman team. "We never thought it would happen because she’s probably one of the healthiest people in our family.”
That’s what makes the disease so scary: It doesn’t discriminate. But if anyone was equipped to bear the burden, it is sunny, positive Fuentes.
“We go to her if we’re down. We go to her if we need help with anything, even if it’s not volleyball-related, we go to her," said Laurel senior defensive specialist Trynadee Goldsberry.
“Our girls go to her when they’re feeling frustrated or down, and so she’s kind of been that family mom for everybody across the board," Klein echoed.
“I have seen her break down once, and that’s it, through this entire thing," Hunter said of Fuentes' now nine-month battle.
Monday night was Warrior Night in Laurel, with shirts and wristbands everywhere you looked across the gym. All proceeds will go toward Fuentes' fight, which is hopefully nearing the end. Family and friends were awaiting news Monday on Fuentes' final test, hoping to hear that magic word.
“We’re hoping she’s in remission," Goldsberry said. "I don’t really know what that means, but we’re hoping she’s in it.”
“We’re hoping we hear the R-word -- remission -- and she can come back and be a part of this and get the ball rolling with us," said Klein.
Of course, just because she hasn’t been around the team physically doesn’t mean she hasn’t been keeping track.
“Actually, me and the other captain of the team, we send a daily gameday picture to her," Goldsberry said. "Every time there’s a game or anything, we send a picture to her, and we send her a green heart. We love it.”
There’s a lot of green hearts waiting to welcome Fuentes back.
You can follow updates on Kelsey's journey on the KelseysKickinCancer facebook page.