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Shelbyville Softball Set to “Strikeout Cancer” To Recognize Former Player Alyvia Smith's Journey

Noah Maddox
Posted 4/17/24

Former Eaglettes' softball player, Alyvia Smith, reflects on her journey dealing with and beating non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and talks about the upcoming "Strike Out Cancer" night on Saturday, April 20.

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Shelbyville Softball Set to “Strikeout Cancer” To Recognize Former Player Alyvia Smith's Journey


When Alyvia Smith first went to the doctor for what was thought to be a softball related injury to her left knee in March of 2022, she was told nothing was broken and given crutches for a week. 

“I thought it was an injury to my knee at first because I had kind of twisted it in a game,” Smith said, “so that's what I figured it was, but then it kept getting worse.” 

Smith, who is currently a freshman at Motlow, was in the first month of her junior year at Shelbyville Central, and she was determined to not let the pain keep her off the field. Her teammates noticed that never-say-die attitude, including then-sophomore starter and recent Motlow Softball signee, Lilly Brown.

“Even though her knee was hurt, Alyvia never wanted to give up, she never wanted to stop playing,” Brown remembered, “Like she only stopped playing for a couple of games. She just kept going through the pain.”

That pain continued to get worse as the season continued, but Smith soldiered on, playing everyday while trying to keep it in the back of her mind.

“I think I really just ignored it thinking I have to get through this season, they need me,” she said.

The Eaglettes’ season came to a close in the second week of May after losing to Coffee County twice in the district tournament, but Alyvia’s fight was only just beginning. 

“It didn't get really really worse until summer ball,” Smith added, “and by then I had to go to the doctor in August because my leg was swelling and bruising so much to the point that I simply could not play anymore.”

Shelbyville Central and Coach Sean Whitaker try to begin fall ball workouts in October which meant Alyvia did not have much time to figure out what was going on in her knee to get ready for her senior season, so she went to a sport orthopedic to try and find an answer for why the pain was persisting in her left leg. 

“They thought I had a hairline fracture on my leg, so they wanted me to get an MRI,” said Smith, but the news she would receive was something she could have never imagined. 

“On September 29, 2022, the MRI results came back and they told me that I had some form of cancer in my bone and recommended me to an oncologist at Vanderbilt,” she said, not knowing that this diagnosis was just the first step in a nearly two-year-long journey filled with numerous twists and turns.

The first thing she did when she got the news? She dialed up her softball coach, Sean Whitaker.

“Well, I remember the day she called and told me,” recalled Coach Sean, “The first time she called in October 2022, I was sitting on the lawn mower mowing the yard, and it hit me pretty good. Because I had never been around that really, nobody in my family was involved. Like the girls, they always, her sister, her friends, and her mama, they’re always cracking jokes, so she really didn't have time to think about it and process it.”

“Her friends and family kept her from sitting down and really thinking about it. For me, I just tried to talk to her, you know, asking her if she’s doing ok and stuff like that,” he continued.

Why would her first call be to her coach? He’s relatable, and his down to earth personality he showcases on a daily basis as he tries to impart a family environment in the program allows his players to feel comfortable asking for help not just in softball, but in life as well.

This culture he has tried to build as he is in his third year at the helm was never more prevalent than one particular exchange when Smith was trying to explain why she called Whitaker first.

“Whenever you can't hit, you call coach Sean, ask him a whole bunch of questions. I feel like I can ask him anything about anything in life,” Alyvia said, before Lilly Brown interjected with a giggle.

“Yea, Coach Sean is big about making your bed every morning.”

“Start your day with something positive every morning,” Coach Sean yelled out in the background as a smile spread across his face. 

However, in October of 2022, Smith was concerned with a lot more than just making her bed at the start of every morning. The oncologist who diagnosed her with cancer did a pair of bone biopsies in the final two weeks of October, but after the results came back they told Alyvia that they didn’t know what her bone was filled with. They then recommended her to a rheumatologist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

After seeing the rheumatologist, Smith was told that they were pretty sure that she had a bone disease called Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis, or CRMO. She was incorrectly diagnosed for the second time, this time with CRMO in January of 2023, just two months before her senior season was set to begin. 

All of these doctor visits were messing with Alyvia’s younger sister, Alyssa, who was getting ready for her sophomore season on the diamond where she was going to be playing every day. 

“Just seeing her down and not 100%, it really threw me off,” Alyssa said. 

Her older sister continued to put on a brave face despite her new diagnosis, and Alyvia says that her younger sister actually was a huge help, whether Alyssa realized it or not.

“We kinda just joked about it, her just joking around made me feel better, and that’s kinda just what she does,” said Alyvia.

In response to this CRMO diagnosis, she was prescribed Humira shots for her senior season, but the pain she had been experiencing did not go away.

“I played every game except for one week because of pain my senior year,” she said. “ The pain started in my left knee, but then it spread to the entire lower leg below my knee.” 

“The worst pain was whenever it spread to my knee, and I couldn’t walk for like a week. I couldn't bend it, I couldn't walk, it was bad. That was last August, so fortunately I didn’t have to play or anything then, but that’s how rough it got,” Alyvia continued.

Despite everything she was going through, including the immense pain, there was a reason she kept fighting to be out there on the softball diamond.

“Playing just made me feel normal because it was the one time I didn't have to think about anything,” she said, “I just did what I did out there on the field.”

Since the shots obviously weren’t helping, Alyvia got more imaging done once the season was over in June of 2023. These confirmed what everyone feared: the shots were not working at all, but worst of all, she may in fact actually have cancer. 

While everyone held their breath, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital performed another bone biopsy on September 14, 2023. At first, the results were inconclusive, but after the bone sample was sent out to the National Institute of Health, the conclusion confirmed everyone’s worst fear. 

The diagnosis this time – for the third time no less –was finally correct: she had non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Once the doctors figured that out, Alyvia had more imaging done and the results showed that there was cancer in both her left and right tibia, right hip bone, and later it moved to her left knee. 

“When I first got diagnosed [in October 2023] they wanted to start treatment immediately so it wouldn't get any worse,” she explained, “So I did it every three weeks on Fridays for five months. I had six rounds of chemo. Daily, I still went to practice at Motlow, I went to the games, did what I normally did really except for on that third friday.” 

Of course, since she had to go through chemotherapy, she had to mentally address the elephant in the room.

“When I found out my hair was gonna fall out, I cried. I cried a lot, but that's really the only time I really cried,” Alyvia recalled.

Alyvia Smith (left) with her sister Alyssa (right) after losing her hair.
Alyvia Smith (left) with her sister Alyssa (right) after losing her hair.

“People look at you differently because you don't have hair, they'll laugh at you sometimes, and stare, and it's really hard mentally, but it makes you stronger in the end.”

The chemo treatments began on November 17th, 2023, and ended on March 1st, 2024. As of March 18th, Alyvia Smith is officially a cancer survivor and is in remission.

Fast forward to the present day, she doesn’t always feel that way yet though. Not that she doesn’t believe it, but more so because of how the treatments kept her off the field.

I still feel like I still have it kind of because I can't really do everything I used to be able to do,” Smith explained. “I can't play yet, but my hair is growing back, so that's good,” she said with a hearty laugh, showing that her sense of humor is still fully functional.  

She says she is extremely thankful for her now-former coaches for routinely checking up on her after her appointments and making sure she was doing okay whenever possible, even though she was a freshman at Motlow. 

Motlow already had an event honoring Alyvia almost two weeks ago now, on April 5th, and the shirts from that event will be worn by every member of the Eaglettes during Saturday’s game. 

The Eaglettes show off the front of the T-shirts.
The Eaglettes show off the front of the T-shirts.

“It means a lot,” Alyvia said about the Strike Out Cancer event scheduled for Saturday. 

“It shows that people care, having people show support means a lot because it helps you get through whatever you're going through,” she said.

The back of the "Strike Out Cancer" T-shirts.
The back of the "Strike Out Cancer" T-shirts.

“Hopefully we can push it into the community that sports are more than just winning and losing,” Coach Sean said about Saturday’s event, “try to have a family environment. We’re getting there.”

He also had some final words of wisdom on what he learned from the past two years that he will take with him and cherish moving forward even more so now.

“Just don’t take anything for granted,” he said, “Try to live the best you can and don't take anything for granted.”

Alyvia expects to be full go by the time August rolls around to get ready for fall ball at Motlow, but this time she will be joined by her old Eaglettes teammate, Lilly Brown.

The Strike Out Cancer event will be held on Saturday, April 20, with first pitch against the Nashville Lady Knights coming at 3:00 p.m.

Alyvia Smith, Alyssa Smith, Lilly Brown, Sean Whitaker, Shelbyville Central Golden Eaglettes, Strike Out Cancer, Motlow