By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- There's plenty of work to be done to perfect Brooke Rosenberg's throwing motion.
That's understandable -- four-year-olds aren't known for their accuracy, and Brooke has the advantage of having an expert in her corner. Her grandfather, Bill Bankert, is an assistant coach for Shenandoah University's softball team and you can bet he'll have plenty of time to work out any kinks in her delivery.
Brooke and older sister Caitlin, 8, showed off their pitching arms by throwing out the ceremonial first pitches before the Hornets' softball doubleheader against Catholic University on Tuesday. The day was billed as a fundraiser for the "Beat Cancer with a Bat" program through the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Brooke and Caitlin are the daughters of Winchester's Chris and Heather Rosenberg.
Bankert experienced the normal feelings of pride as he caught his granddaughters' challenging throws to home plate, but moments like these mean so much more now. Two years ago, Brooke was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), the most deadly strain of the cancer. This, shortly after Bankert's wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer and not long before his mother was diagnosed with lymphoma.
"All three of them are doing great, and that's because of the cancer research," Bankert said. "We just wanted to get as much money as we can for cancer research so everybody can beat this terrible disease."
Brooke benefited from having Caitlin as a big sister. With only a 25-percent chance of finding a perfect match for a bone-marrow donation, Brooke beat the odds when Caitlin was determined to be just that. After six months of chemotherapy, Brooke and Caitlin went through the bone-marrow transplant side-by-side at Washington D.C.'s Children's Hospital.
"It's incredible just to see her every day," Bankert said. "She was intensive care for 48 hours after her bone-marrow transplant. Her body was rejecting it, which is fairly normal, and her kidneys stopped working for like 24 hours. It was just horrible. We didn't think she'd make it."
Two weeks later, the family was back home in time to celebrate Christmas. In the two years since, all signs are positive for Brooke's full recovery.
"It's been two years and she's basically beating the disease at this point and time," Bankert said. "So we're just very happy. She just had her two-year checkup, which is a big milestone for bone-marrow transplants, and she passed with flying colors.
"They still wait five years to pronounce her cured, but basically they're using the word cured when they talk about her."
Throughout Brooke's treatment and recovery, Bankert said the family has been overwhelmed by the support offered by their community.
"In Winchester they've been incredible," Bankert said. "They've raised so much money for my granddaughter with fundraiser after fundraiser. It's just an incredibly giving community."
The desire to give back is what motivated Tuesday's fundraiser. Bankert and Shenandoah wanted the fundraiser to "help everybody, with all types of cancer."
On Tuesday, Bankert could focus on more mundane matters like pitching mechanics. He wasn't though, not really -- Bankert and his family are focused on doing all they can to promote cancer research, and he hopes events like Tuesday's fundraiser can help others fighting cancer.
"She's a normal child now," Bankert said of Brooke. "She's come through this unscathed, and she's luckier than most because she had the bone marrow match."
To donate to the Shenandoah softball team's cancer fundraising efforts, visit http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/su-softball/2013-beat-cancer-with-a-bat.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>