Each year, Midcoast high school athletic teams, from season to season, look for ways to support breast cancer awareness with fundraisers and the wearing and playing with pink attire and equipment during events.

In early January, Medomak Valley High School literally and figuratively will elevate their "pink'" games thanks to the generosity and forward thinking of two supportive area residents — both of whom personally, from different perspectives, understand the true meaning of the colorful gesture.

Thanks to the financial support of John and Gayle Murphy of Owls Head, Panther basketball players will be plenty fashionable in new pink uniforms worn for back-to-back games with visiting Lincoln County-rival Lincoln Academy of Newcastle on Tuesday, Jan. 2.

In conjunction with the regular-season games is an event to benefit the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition, the first annual "Paws for the Cause," hosted by the Medomak Valley All-Sports Boosters.

The Murphys came up with the idea of the event and donated $4,000 to purchase pink uniforms for the Panther boys and girls varsity basketball teams.

The pink attire worn by the players for the games will be in conjunction with pink worn by others that night as well as fundraisers for breast cancer awareness and research.

The boys game tips off at 5:30 p.m. and the girls about 7 p.m. The event will attempt to "pink out" the gymnasium, highlighted by the pink uniforms worn by the players.

Commemorative t-shirts also will be available for purchase.

In addition, other fundraisers will take place prior to and during the games, as well as an opportunity to add a personalized pink paw to the wall for a $1 donation.

Proceeds from the night's 50/50 drawing will go to the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition, a volunteer-based, non-profit organization, dedicated to making a difference in Maine people through advocacy, education and financial support.

“This will truly be a memorable evening for all, as everyone has been impacted by cancer in some way,” said Michelle DePatsy, boosters president. “We hope to see a full house on Jan. 2 and everyone is encouraged to wear pink."

Longtime Panther boys varsity coach Nick DePatsy added, "This terrible disease has touched all of us at one time in our lives. To have the Murphys present and fund this idea is a credit to them and their family members. I think this is a great way to draw awareness to an awful disease, that is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide."

"I think it is a great idea and inspired that [the Murphys] would head this up," said Panther girls varsity coach Ryan McNelly. "[The Lincoln Academy] are always great games with an awesome atmosphere and I think this will just bring another thing into the mix."

McNelly said it is "a great time to raise awareness," and also added, with a lighthearted spirit, "The only problem is that I think I now have to go out and buy a pink tie or something. I don't really do pink, but I think I can make an exception here."

Breast cancer awareness and research is something the Murphys hold near and dear to their hearts for a number of reasons, the most significant and poignant being that Gayle is a breast cancer survivor.

After dealing with her disease for nearly a year, Gayle never had a recurrence and said she is happy to state that in March of 2018, "I will be celebrating nine years being cancer-free. I am one of the lucky ones."

Lincoln Academy players also are expected to wear pink attire and fundraise on their own. “We’d also like to thank our guests from Lincoln Academy, not only for participating in the night, but also for supporting our endeavor as well,” said MVHS athletic director Matt Lash.

Lash said the Maine Principals' Association, which governs member high school varsity athletic programs, allows a one-time uniform waiver to wear a non-approved National Federation of State High School Associations uniform.

Lash said the special pink uniforms would not have been purchased if not for the annual fundraiser. In addition, he said, business sponsorship were sought to purchase pink warm-up shirts for the basketball players and cheering squad to wear that night. The student-athletes will keep those t-shirts.

The Murphys, additionally, had a hand in the purchase of those t-shirts.

In the notes from an October Regional School Unit 40 board meeting, Lash wrote: "John and Gayle approached me this summer with the idea of purchasing the uniforms to be worn at a home basketball varsity doubleheader to raise money for cancer research. They have been active in local fundraisers for cancer research."

The Murphys are especially involved with youth athletics, the MVHS boosters and other fundraising causes, especially breast cancer awareness and research.

For Gayle, of course, this is personal. She has first-hand knowledge of the impact breast cancer can have on an individual and family.

Gayle said in late February of 2009, "during my regular daily activities, I noticed a lump under my arm pit. I really wasn’t concerned, as I had always tried to live a healthy lifestyle. I had my yearly physical scheduled for the following week so I made a mental note to ask my doctor about it.

"That doctor’s appointment started a whirlwind of tests. Right up until the moment of the phone call I received telling me I had a malignancy, I kept telling myself that it was nothing because I was too young and too healthy to develop breast cancer."

Then she learned differently — and received the news she dreaded might come.

On March 5, 2009, at age 41, "I was diagnosed with an aggressive, fast-growing malignant tumor. At that time, I had a daughter that was a freshman in college, a son that was a senior in high school, and a son who was 7. My prognosis was uncertain, as my tumor was the more rare kind of tumor called triple-negative. Triple-negative tumors are not treatable with hormone therapy, and have a high rate of recurrence for the first five years. I remember the day well that I was informed of my triple-negative diagnosis. I was told that 'contrary to what you might have heard, triple-negative breast cancer is not a death sentence.' "

Gayle said before her diagnosis, "I always had the false belief that a diagnosis of breast cancer meant that a person gets treated and if it was really bad, the breast gets removed, and you go on your merry way. While trying to comprehend my diagnosis, I struggled with how to reassure my children that everything was going to be fine, when I felt like my life was a crap shoot. I struggled with everyone telling me to stay positive, when I needed to discuss my wishes for my 7-year-old if my outcome wasn’t good. I struggled with the thought of losing my hair. I struggled with the roller-coaster ride of good news/bad news with each doctor appointment."

Gayle's health plan during the difficult time involved eight treatments of “dose dense” chemotherapy every other week for four months and many surgeries. Although she did her chemotherapy at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, "I had endless out-of-town appointments. My treatment took almost a year from start to finish, with followup appointments for five years."

Gayle said her grandmother also was 41 when she learned she had breast cancer and Gayle's sister was 44 at the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer — five weeks after Gayle's diagnosis.

"This put us into a new category of needing gene testing," Gayle said. "I was told that based on the type of tumor, along with the family history, that there was a high likelihood that there was a genetic link. Although my gene testing was negative, I was told there probably is a gene that hasn’t been isolated yet. More genes are able to be tested now than when I was diagnosed, and more are being discovered every day. That is why I feel it is important to do everything we can to learn more about cancer treatments and prevention. I never want to see my daughter, my nieces, or anyone else go through the emotional, physical and financial demands of a cancer diagnosis and treatment."

Interestingly, the 7-year-old son Gayle speaks of is Carson, now a sophomore and player in the MVHS basketball program (he also plays golf and baseball for the Panthers).

John said the pink game concept "is an extension of what we’ve already been doing in the area of breast cancer awareness/fundraising since (Gayle's) diagnosis and recovery eight years ago. And, it combines two of the things that we’re most passionate about — youth sports and philanthropy."

John has long supported youth sports. He had been involved in coaching his own children and others, and now continues to volunteer his time to a number of area youth sports organizations.

"One of the things that I enjoyed most while my kids were growing up and participating in sports was to make sure that their teams were well-equipped and well-dressed," John said. "So I was always providing them with custom uniforms, practice/warm-up jerseys, that were keepsakes that the kids could have once the season was over to hopefully provide them with an even more memorable experience. So the pink game, the pink uniforms, and the pink-sponsored warm-up shirts, are kind of an extension of that, as well as some of the philanthropic activities that we’re both focused upon."

John said after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, "we were both kind of in awe of the support system that immediately kicked in. Beyond the doctors’ appointments, treatments, etc., there was this whole other support system that was in place. They would throw gas cards your way if you had to travel out of town for treatment, make offers for places to stay overnight if your care required it, etc. So we quickly realized that beyond raising funds for research for a cure, there was probably equal or greater value in raising funds to help people who were in need, to make sure that these support services remain in place, or perhaps even grew further. While we considered ourselves fortunate and didn’t really need this assistance, we thought about how many people do and set about to try and do whatever we could do to help the cause."

As a result, the Murphys became active in breast cancer awareness and fundraiser causes.

However, John, vice president of sales for Douglas Dynamics (Fisher Engineering) of Rockland, said it was through his employer that an opportunity presented itself to start more serious fundraising.

As a result, the Pink Plow Programs, Pink Plow donation raffles, and other events through Fisher Engineering has enabled the organization to raise more than $75,000 over the past five years.

In fact, in June, John represented Fisher Engineering at the Snow & Ice Management Association Convention where his employer was presented with a Philanthropist Leadership Award.

Additionally, the Murphys also have their own charitable organization called “Kicks for Kids – Midcoast Maine.”

John said it is something the couple funds and is designed to make sure youth in need have a new pair of sneakers (“kicks”) either for back to school or for a youth sport season.

John said at this point that charitable organization is modest, but is something the two would like to grow. For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/KicksforKidsMidcoastMaine/.

"Beyond that, we’ve got a couple additional big ideas that we hope to move forward with in the next few years that will hopefully also have a positive impact on young student-athletes in the Midcoast," he said.

John said one of the things youth sports and breast cancer have in common is neither discriminate.

"When you step onto the ballfield, court, etc., it’s you and the other kids," he said. "It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, etc. It’s such a great life lesson about success, or failure through personal hard work and perseverance regardless of your socioeconomic background. If you work hard, you can be successful. The same is also true for breast cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. If it impacted our family, it can impact anyone’s family. But unlike youth sports, treatment options can discriminate, so we’re just trying to do our little part to eliminate that."