As a volleyball official, Katra Long has been giving out instructions for the past four years and athletes are subject to follow those rules for a reason.
In 2006, Long obeyed some instructions of her own, doctor’s orders that led to the discovery that she had breast cancer.
“You need to follow up on things when they tell you to come back because there is a reason and to see if a change occurs,” said Long.
Long, like her fellow officials in volleyball, has been pretty close to the cancer awareness action at local high schools this month.
A five-year cancer survivor, she can also be the first to state that awareness is extremely important and that funds raised are a benefit.
“It’s a constant reminder of my survivorship, and I am an adamant advocate of getting screened,” Long said. “I’m even more passionate about those under insured or not insured to please take advantage of the services that are free.”
Long said she had no idea she had cancer until she had a mammogram screening during Hurricane Ernesto in 2006. Doctors discovered that she had a lump the size of a dime.
“If I could have felt my lump I would have probably been dead because it was an aggressive cancer,” Long said.
Her news came in the form of a voice message requesting her immediate attention.
“My head started spinning,” Long said, adding that her cancer was close to spreading throughout her body.
To get her through the challenges, Long said she relied on her faith in Jesus and that things would be for the better.
“I had to be confident as I went through the entire journey because I was in treatment for over a year and a half,” Long said.
Long said her family does have a history of breast cancer. It was her aunt Dorothy Stewart that died from the side effects of chemotherapy and not receiving similar treatment.
“I’m just so thankful for everyone who has lost loved ones,” Long said. “As a survivor I’m appreciative of the research money and I’m certain that’s the reason why I’m alive and she’s not because of the fact that they [researchers] have made slight changes in the way they treat this horrible disease. These slight changes have made a major difference in me being here, and the cancer recurring and compromising my own aunt.
For the past two weeks and on to the end of the month, high schools athletes in the Northern Neck are raising the awareness of melanoma and breast cancer.
Long doesn’t officiate at all the Northern Neck District Schools, but works also with schools in the Middle Peninsula. She is appreciative of the recognition by athletes, but says she is only one of many.
“I respect the fact that they want to honor me, but cancer impacts everyone—the survivor and the individual—and even the children,” Long said. “I appreciate all the funds that have been gathered and contributed so research can go on.”
“My biggest passion is for the under insured and uninsured because if they don’t get the screening, it just doesn’t make a difference,” Long added. “We just all need to make sure everyone knows somebody that has been affected by some way of cancer and make sure people take advantage of the screenings available for them.”
Long said is passionate about fitness and the sport of volleyball. The former jazzercise instructor was convinced by officials league present Terry Bain to becoming a volleyball official. Long eventually became one four years ago.
When she is not blowing her whistle, Long continues to serve in her 16th year as certified educator. Currently she is employed at the Rappahannock Community College Campuses in Kilmarnock and Warsaw. According to local high school volleyball coaches, approximately $382 was reported to have been raised for either melanoma or breast cancer research.
Washington & Lee raised about $100 in T-shirt sales and almost $60 in donations. The money will be donated to the University of Virginia Cancer Research in the Melanoma Department.
Rappahannock raised $222 in a 50/50 raffle with the raffle ticket winner, Jane Harcum of Warsaw, donating the winnings back in memory of her late mother Maxine Bell. The donations will be given to the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Program.
Editor’s note: This story is a three part series on how cancer has united players, officials and fans.