GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sports writer Emily Waldon knows well the stories of athletes playing through injuries. She was in a similar spot as she covered this season’s West Michigan Whitecaps home opener — except it’s not an injury she’s battling.
On the morning of April 12, the same day as the home opener, Waldon had an eight-hour chemotherapy treatment.
“This is my eighth season of covering (Minor League Baseball) and I’ve never missed a West Michigan home opener,” Waldon said. “I understand that I’m tough enough to face this no matter how tough it gets.”
Just a few months before her 39th birthday, Waldon was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“They say when you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you sort of black out,” Waldon said. “And that’s exactly what happened, because it was, ‘Oh my gosh, what does my life look like now?'”
The fight has changed her dramatically, physically and mentally. Chemotherapy has been exhausting. She said losing her hair was one of the toughest parts.
“When you have a certain type of hairstyle and you have to let it go against your will, it’s not fun,” Waldon said.
But through it all, Waldon has found strength and a community as she documents her journey on social media.
“You can get through a lot more than you realize,” Waldon said. “I’m the type of person where if I’m going through something, I can find positivity and I want other people to find that too.”
Even through one of the toughest years of her life, she’s still committed to doing what she loves most.
“The minors sort just of sucked me in and it’s really become a group that I feel like I can identify with a lot on the personal level,” Waldon said. “Seeing the struggles they go through, and it’s given me the opportunity to give them a platform and really tell their stories.”
Waldon has bylines across several publications, writing stories that advocate for MLB prospects. She has campaigned for athletes to receive better pay and highlighted the stories of players around the league.
For all that she has done for those in baseball, they wanted to return the favor.
“She is just one of those genuine people that is trying to do good, so that was someone worth paying attention to,” Rob Friedman said.
Freidman is a baseball analyst who runs a Twitter account with the handle @PitchingNinja. He has close to half a million followers. He connected with Waldon on social media a few years ago. Despite never meeting her in person, he decided to use his platform to help her fight cancer.
“Right away I just said, ‘I know that she’s done something for other people; why don’t we just do something for her?'” Friedman said.
“They sent me a text and said, ‘We want to do something to help you,’ and sent me a screenshot of a Pitching Ninja shirt which they had redesigned in pink,” Waldon said. “And they called it ‘Emily’s Fight edition.'”
Friedman said it’s one the most successful merchandise sales he has ever had. Pitching Ninja sold thousands of shirts across the world, from the U.S. to Australia, with all the profits going to Waldon.
“I was speechless. Obviously, I got very emotional multiple times, knowing that many people want to recognize and offer a show of support, and even now it still gets me emotional,” she said.
Waldon has been flooded with messages of support since her diagnosis. One she got last week was especially memorable.
“It was a Detroit area code and I didn’t have the phone number saved. I opened the text message and it said, ‘Emily, I just found out you are battling breast cancer. Please know that I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers,'” she said.
That text came from Detroit Tigers general manger Al Avila.
“That was really just an incredible, incredible moment,” Waldon said.
Whether the support comes from the Tigers or baseball fans in West Michigan, is reassures Waldon that she is not alone in the fight.
“Even in a season as ugly as this, it allows people to see hope, so I’m hoping my story will do that for people,” Waldon said.