by Jonathon Braden
LEXINGTON, S.C. – They have helped her with life’s day-to-day tasks, such as finding something for dinner. They also have been with her during her most difficult moments, such as when Beverly Hill endured chemotherapy and lost her hair.
On March 10, Hill learned that the lump on her breast was cancerous and needed to be removed.
Ever since she received that call, her 16 teammates on her USTA league tennis team in Lexington have done whatever she has asked.
They call or text almost daily. They drop off meals. They sit with her.
Other friends also have helped Hill and her family, she said, and she’s grateful for all the support.
But how her tennis team has supported her and her family has especially stood out.
Four years ago, she joined this team looking for a group of ladies to play tennis with every so often. She now knows she has found a group of supportive friends.
“Tennis brought us together. We wouldn’t have found each other otherwise,” Hill said. “(But) it’s not all about tennis. It’s about the relationships you form.”
On February 10, Hill found the lump on her breast during a self-exam. At first, she didn’t tell the team, hoping the lump wouldn’t be cancerous and that she wouldn’t need surgery.
That changed on March 10, though. And once her teammates also learned the news, they got busy.
Teammate Sioban Smith organized a way for teammates to sign up to bring food to Hill.
Every Tuesday and Thursday since, a teammate has stopped by with at least two days’ worth of food, Hill said.
They have stuffed her refrigerator with chicken parmesan and chicken pot pie. Her freezer has held pints of Edy’s strawberry and vanilla ice cream.
During one recent delivery, teammate Kay Wescott brought Caesar salad, chicken casserole, carrots, bread, green beans, and a key lime pie.
They have delivered non-edible items, too, such as copies of Better Homes and Garden and Southern Living and baskets of candles.
Captain Carol Wiggins has even sewn hats and scarves for Hill.
“It’s just been endless,” Hill said.
The day Hill underwent surgery to have the lump removed, Wescott made sure one of her good friends, a nurse, took care of Hill at the Lexington Medical Center, where the surgery took place.
Teammates dropped by the house during the hours and days following the surgery, too.
They also swung by the family’s home on April 2, Hill’s 49th birthday, and the day she underwent a double mastectomy.
To help Hill with her chemotherapy, Gabby Swearingen organized teammates’ schedules to make sure Hill had someone with her during the six-hour sessions. Teammates signed up for two-hour shifts.
Hill’s husband, a sister, and others sat with her during the first session, but during her second and third round of chemo, a teammate was there every hour.
The teammates sit next to Hill, who sits in a recliner and receives the chemo drugs intravenously. Her teammates try to take her mind elsewhere.
They talk about her two boys, the family’s plan to build a new house, and the team’s upcoming USTA league tennis matches.
(Last time, Swearingen even promised to do cartwheels and handstands if it would make Hill laugh.)
The teammates were there for Hill, too, when she wanted to shave her head.
It was the morning of May 17. She had previously undergone one round of chemo, and her smooth, black hair was falling out in clumps.
The team was already together; they were playing tennis at the USTA South Carolina 40 and Over State League Championships in Aiken. After their first match, during of which Hill played doubles, she asked her teammates to go with her for the haircut.
At the Great Clips in Aiken, her teammates laughed and cried when Hill smiled with a Mohawk. They laughed and cried some more when her head was completely shaven.
Together, they all smiled for a photo with the hairdresser.
Her teammates played the rest of the championships with Hill on their minds.
“Let’s do this for Beverly,” they said.
And a couple of days later, they were smiling again, celebrating their first USTA SC 40 and Over State League Championship. In August, they’ll compete against the best of the best in the South at their competition level.
Her teammates have gladly helped Hill as much as possible, but making time to do so hasn’t been simple. They, too, have busy lives with busy families.
For example, Wiggins captains the team, has a full-time job and is the primary caregiver for her 91-year-old mother.
Swearingen has two children and owns her own Lexington cleaning business.
But they all have made time for Hill.
“It’s because of her,” Swearingen said. “She would do the same for everybody else.”
Hill has done something similar for Swearingen.
Last October, Swearingen learned that her 12-year-old son had type 1 diabetes. At the time, she was the one trying to cope with health news, and Hill was the one dropping off meals and making sure Swearingen didn’t need anything else.
“When you’re a team like that and you see each other at least once a week, if not twice,” Swearingen said, “you develop bonds and friendships and you just want to support her, as a teammate and as a friend.”
Hill’s teammates will support her next month, too.
On July 10, Hill will go for her fourth and final scheduled session of chemotherapy at the Cancer Center at South Carolina Oncology Associates.
When patients finish their treatment there, they can ring a bell, their “End of Treatment” bell.
“Ringing the ‘End of Treatment’ bell can be a great emotional lift for both patients and families,” reads the website of the associates’ foundation.
Wiggins and Swearingen and other teammates plan to be with Hill on that day, as they have been throughout the past four months.