The Mills family is not new to Otsego’s Purple Community events. In 2012, then-senior Kaitlyn Mills wore a purple jersey honoring her grandma in the first purple volleyball game. In 2014, then-junior, Nate Mills, also wore purple as he participated in the first purple soccer game. That year, he was honoring his dad, Wayne, with his name on the back of his jersey who had just been diagnosed with brain cancer.
“His arm kept going numb,” explains Becky Mills, Wayne’s wife. They found themselves at the Cleveland Clinic, headed for surgery to remove the tumor. The surgery got most of it, but his type of tumor “grows fingers” as Becky explains it. “New ones would come.”
Wayne endured several different treatments and lived for 3 ½ years. It’s those treatments that bring the Mills family into this year’s purple events. “Some pretty amazing treatments were done that I feel started back here at Van Andel Institute and their research of cancer and how to kill different types of cancer. We feel like we got the best treatment and it goes back to Van Andel,” Becky says.
Kaitlyn Mills will share their story in a short ceremony at the start of Friday’s football game, a place she never thought she’d be when she participated six years ago, “You never know when an event like this will have an impact on your life. When I played in the purple game, I never imagined my dad would be diagnosed with cancer just a year and half later. The Van Andel Institute research could someday save someone like my dad, and all of the purple games may play a huge role in making that possible,” she says. This weekend will mark one year since her dad passed away.
As they mark that anniversary, they are also thinking about what it's like to be a part of this event. “It truly is incredible. Friends are supportive when you have a family member battling cancer, but seeing so many people in one community come together for a united cause is even more amazing. Everyone is affected by cancer in some way and the purple game really shows how much impact a group can have just by sharing that connection,” Kaitlyn says.
“It’s just amazing,” Becky says, “Everyone’s earning money and the more money we can raise for cancer research, because everyone knows someone who has cancer, maybe some we don’t have to have a purple game.”
They’ll admit, until cancer hits you, you don’t really know what it’s like. Kaitlyn says cherishing the time you have with family is the best advice she would give people going through this battle, “Not just the person battling cancer, but everyone. Enjoy all of the moments you can spend together. I truly believe my dad's battle with cancer brought our family closer together and showed us just how important having each other is.”
Friday’s purple game and ceremony begin at 7:00 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.