PENINSULA PROFILE: How a crisis brings sisters together, strengthens family

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

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By Diane Urbani de la Paz

Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — During the family’s meeting with a news reporter, young Anne Edwards can’t resist doing some stretches. While her parents and older sister sit in easy chairs, Anne busts a few exercises, first on the living room floor.

Then, once she’s sprung to her front yard, she does cartwheels and related gymnastic moves.

A year ago this month, Anne, then 8, was a long way from here. Diagnosed with lymphoma, she underwent chemotherapy throughout the spring of 2013 at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She lost her dark hair for a while — but never her sight of her beloved sport.

Today, Anne is cancer-free and about to celebrate her 10th birthday at the end of this month.

She’s also thinking about an annual event in Seattle: the Scott Firefighter Climb of the Columbia Center. The ascension of the tower by some 1,800 firefighters from around the world means much to Anne and her family, as it’s a fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

While Anne was in treatment last March, she cheered on firefighter Daniel Montana with his Port Angeles Fire Department team, including Jake Patterson, Erik Sundin, and Kelly Ziegler, as they climbed the 69 floors and 1,311 steps to the top of the tower.

This year, the North Olympic Peninsula is well-represented again, with nearly two dozen firefighters from Port Angeles, Port Ludlow, East Jefferson Fire-Rescue and a Clallam County fire district climbing the tower and wearing, as is tradition, their fire gear.

“As a family, we now fully understand what these type of fundraisers mean,” Anne and her folks wrote on, the nonprofit service providing free websites to people facing serious medical conditions.

The Edwards family has also gained a deep understanding of community.

In a town like this one, “you don’t go through cancer by yourself,” said Anne’s father Rob Edwards.

A lifelong Port Angeles resident, he teaches at ­Stevens Middle School and coaches the girls’ junior varsity fast pitch team at Port Angeles High School, while Lucy, his wife of 17 years, teaches kindergarten at Dry Creek Elementary School. Their colleagues, along with many Port Angeles groups official and unofficial, surrounded them with caring.

On Anne’s CaringBridge journal, Lucy and Rob hailed as many as they could.

“Port Angeles Swim Club. You have been our rock.

“Klahanne Gymnastics. You are Anne’s home.

“Port Angeles Fire Department. You climbed for Anne.

“Port Angeles Track Team. You ran for Anne.

“Port Angeles Coast Guard. You made Anne an honorary rescue swimmer.

“Stevens Middle School and Dry Creek Elementary School. You fed us and you supported us.”

There were many more. Anne, together with her sister Erin, 13, and their parents, are still marveling at the events of the past year — and looking ahead to an experience that will again knit them together.

With Erin’s softball team, PA Impact, the Edwards clan will fly this summer to Mutsu City, Port Angeles’ sister city in Japan. They’re set to go June 30, a year and 11 days after Anne’s doctors told her she was cancer free. The players have a Facebook page of course, under PAImpact.

This nine-day adventure will be a return trip: The Edwards family traveled to Mutsu City on a sister city exchange in 2006, back when Anne was just 2 and Erin was in kindergarten.

They’ve kept in touch with students there, and when Anne was in the midst of her cancer fight, friends in Mutsu City made and sent 1,000 origami paper cranes to her, in a collective wish for her recovery.

Now, both Anne and Erin are attending Japanese language classes every Thursday night, along with Erin’s softball team, at Stevens Middle School. Lucy Edwards, who did an internship in Japan while she was in college, facilitates the sessions.

This language training is added to more than 20 hours the girls put into their various sports.

Anne works out at Klahhane Gymnastics for about 12 hours per week, reveling in every leap and swing. When asked which are her favorite events, she listed them all: bars, beam, floor and vault. She also adores plain conditioning exercises.

They’re working. “She has definitely gotten stronger,” Lucy said.

During her months of chemo, Anne didn’t quit gymnastics.

She would get a break and come home for a day or two, and “the first place she wanted to go was the gym,” Lucy recalled.

“She’d push it.”

Erin pours the same determination into her sports: softball and swimming. For her, the two complement each other well.

Swimming is individual, a race with the clock that lets you see exactly how much you’re improving, Erin says.

As for softball, “I love my team,” she adds.

“We’re sisters, pretty much.”

Erin’s sister Anne comes to softball practice too. “It’s fun for me to watch,” she says.

Anne and Erin’s biggest fans, however, are their parents.

“They’re always going to have their sibling rivalries,” Rob began.

At this, Erin just smiled.

Rob considers his daughter the essence of a good sport.

“Erin did an incredible job of absorbing the ups and downs of a family health crisis,” he said.

“Lucy and I could not have been more proud of the way our two girls came together during this past year.”

For her part, Erin said she likes to tell the story of how Anne beat cancer. And during the period when her sister had to live in Seattle, she added, the house in Port Angeles felt empty.

“It made me thankful to have my family around,” the teenager said.

In addition to his high school coaching and middle school teaching jobs, Rob is the coach, with Brett O’Connor, of the Impact softball team. He took care to list Erin’s teammates: Haley Becker, Rose Clark, Aliyah Johnston, Kyrsten McGuffy, Aspen Millet, Hope O’Connor, Madilyn Roening, Lauren Waldren and Cheyenne Wheeler.

“I am super excited for Japan,” said Erin. Just about every Thursday night, after Japanese class ends at 8:30, she’s ready to come home and start packing.

“I love to travel,” she said, and the long flight doesn’t faze her. Erin will be traveling with all of her sisters, after all.

Last modified: March 08. 2014 6:07PM
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