Sometimes the darkest moments in our lives can create the biggest blessings.
As setter Piper Boydstun, along with the rest of the Northwestern State volleyball team, prepares for the annual Fork Cancer match on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, she does so with one of her largest gifts squarely in her corner.
A month after her fifth birthday, Boydstun was introduced to the world of hospitals, doctors, nurses, needles, wires, monitors and everything that accompanies cancer treatment when her 11-year-old sister, Presley, was diagnosed with leukemia.
It was determined that the form of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) that Presley had, brought with it a rare chromosome, known as Philadelphia positive only seen in three percent of pediatric cases. The presence of the chromosome turned Presley’s treatment from “high risk” to the “very high risk” protocols.
Although aware of the gravity of what her sister and family were navigating at the time, the adage of “sisters will be sisters” rang true for Piper and Presley through the more than three years of varying in-patient and out-patient treatments.
“We were still sisters,” Boydstun said with a smile. “We still fought like sisters. It didn’t matter if she was bald or had a full head of hair. We still fought and nit-picked at each other because that’s just how we were. I never saw her as anything else besides my sister. I never saw her as a sick kid whether she was in the hospital or not.”
Thanks to those treatments, plenty of prayers and Presley’s unwavering resilience and fight she would find herself in remission from the leukemia, still to this day, and having herself, her sister and her family introduced to countless opportunities.
The Boydstuns became heavily involved with Bear Necessities, a non-profit pediatric cancer foundation based in Chicago, during their time at Texas Children’s Hospital. Piper and Presley’s dad, Eric, helped establish the Texas chapter of the foundation as a way to help other families travel one of the most difficult paths imaginable.
Through yearly golf tournament, crawfish boils and other donations organized by the Boydstuns and Bear Necessities they have helped ease the burden on others that they were all too familiar with during Presley’s journey. Still intimately involved to this day, the foundation sponsors cabins at Camp Periwinkle, a week-long summer camp in Brenham, Texas, for cancer patients and their siblings that both Piper and Presely attended multiple times.
“Even with everything that happened and the treatments she went through and her being in ICU on more than one occasion, our family still says it was a blessing in disguise,” Boydstun said. “What we’ve been able to do with Bear Necessities and Periwinkle, I wouldn’t have met so many people that are in our lives now if we hadn’t gone through that.”
In addition to opening the door to help countless other families and children through their own cancer treatments, it was Presley’s illness that pushed Piper toward the sport she loves and serves as a reminder of the most important things in life.
“Volleyball was my safe haven,” Boydstun said. “It was my getaway that allowed me to be Piper and not just Presley’s sister. It was a way for me to do something that I loved and kind of forget about what was going on.
“There have been times the past few years here where I thought my hardest struggles in life would be volleyball. You can get caught up in the stigma as an athlete that if you’re not performing well then you’re not good enough. It would be my sister who would bring me back from that. She would remind me that there are bigger problems and remind me why I was playing in the first place. I have the honor to play this game and represent something way bigger than just me.”
When the Demons take the floor on Thursday against A&M-Corpus Christi they will do so in their orange jerseys with pink accessories in honor of both leukemia and breast cancer awareness.
Boydstun will, as she does for every match, don a blue ribbon, her tribute to and reminder of her sister’s fight and the color associated with Team Presley. It will be just the latest installment of how Piper and Presley continue to strengthen their bond and relationship.
“Besides when she was going through treatment, this is probably the closest we’ve ever been,” Boydstun said. “She couldn’t play sports after she got sick so she’s someone that is my biggest cheerleader. When I do play and things don’t go the right way she is like, ‘I’m just there to watch you play, I’m there to watch you enjoy it.’
“It makes me happy knowing that I have people that just like to see me happy doing what I’m good at. Presley is that and I know wherever life takes me I know she’s going to be in my corner.”
Presley continues to take oral treatment to this day to stay in remission, only pausing for a short time in order to add yet another blessing to the Boydstun family in daughter Charlie.
“I’m not someone who takes people for granted,” Piper said. “My family has been through a lot in just my 20 years of life. I know that everything that has happened has made me into the person that I am. When I look at the big picture, I know that I am blessed every single day just because I have Presley. Knowing that I have her and the rest of my family as my support system I am just constantly blessed.”