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kBy Dylan Widger
A Neligh-Oadale graduate and cancer survivor received the "Royal" treatment on Mother's Day after she was selected as the Honorary Bat Girl for the Kansas City Royals.
Brie Epke, a member of the Neligh-Oakdale Class of 1998 and daughter of Tom and Mary Schrader of Neligh, was selected as the 2017 Honorary Bat Girl for the Kansas City Royals. Epke was diagnosed with both brain and breast cancer after suffering a stroke in the spring of 2015.
"I love being able to do this. I love showing to women that 'You know what? You can beat breast cancer,' " Epke said.
Epke was chosen as part of the Honorary Bat Girl program earlier this month. The program was introduced in 2009 to raise awareness and support for the annual "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative celebrated on Mother's Day. Contestants first submitted an application along with their story, where fans voted online for their favorite pick.
A panel of celebrity judges then selected the winners. Royals Outfielder Alex Gordon, who was born in Nebraska and played baseball for the Cornhuskers before being drafted by Kansas City in 2005, served as the special guest judge on the committee.
Other judges included Uzo Aduba, star of the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black, Brenda Song, star of the CBS drama Pure Genius, and breast cancer survivors Holly Rowe and Shelley Smith of ESPN. MLB Network's Kelly Nash & Chris Rose and Lindsay Berra & Alyson Footer of MLB.com also served on the panel.
"I got a phone call from the MLB saying that I won, and that Alex Gordon had picked me," Epke said.
Gordon's mother is a breast cancer survivor, so her story was even more special.
"I saw it on Facebook!" she said. "I follow the Royals on Facebook, and I just saw that they do this contest to honor women that have had breast cancer. I applied, I wrote an article and my story and sent it in."
Epke said that having the opportunity to do this impacted her extremely.
"It was amazing. Things like this give you so much positive energy, to keep going. Having cancer wasn't the last thing in the world. I always said throughout my whole journey it was only going to be a chapter in my life, not the whole story"
During the fall of 2015, the Royals were dominating their way through the season, eventually becoming World Series Champions for the first time since 1985. It was a special moment in time for every Royal fan. However, this was a bit more special for Epke. At the same time as the Royals were becoming champions, Epke was going through chemotherapy.
"They were so excited," she said. "I remember calling my husband at work and, oh, he was so excited for me. Baseball has always been a huge part of our lives. My husband played in the minor leagues for five years, so he was excited. Any my boys were excited, too."
After Epke's battle with cancer, she joined the Young Survival Coalition. The Young Survival Coalition, or YLC for short, is a support group whose members are all people diagnosed before the age of 40. Epke says that support is extremely beneficial when fighting something like this.
"Be there for them. They need to know that people are there praying and supporting them on their journey," she said.
Each year, the YLC holds a Tour de Pink, a 200-mile, three day bike ride that raises money for young women affected by breast cancer. This year, Epke will be participating in the ride.
Besides the support of others, the YLC also offers something greater: A sense of hope. Epke said that this is the biggest part of groups and people like this.
"Giving hope to people. Even people seeing my hair. A lot of people knew that I went bald for a long time. Seeing the hair grow back makes you know that you can get things back to normal," Epke said. "That's the biggest thing when going through cancer. Getting your life back to a normal routine. When I finally went back to work, that was huge in my boys' life. One more thing is back to normal."
When asked how she felt about the whole experience, her answer was short and simple.
"Oh, it made me feel like a queen for the day," Epke said.