Candice Bowers will not be hammering kills as a senior on the Kenai Central High School volleyball team this season. She won’t be lending her voice to the school choir or serving in her usual selfless role as part of school student leadership.
But Tuesday evening will leave no doubt that Bowers is still a big part of all three of those entities at the high school. The Kardinals volleyball program will be putting on “Digging Deep for Donalen” in the school gym and commons from 3 to 6 p.m.
Donalen Bowers, Candice’s sister and a 2016 Kenai Central graduate, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer, in early July. The cancer is even rarer when found in somebody older than 5 years old, meaning Donalen, 21, is a high-risk patient because there is not a lot of evidence for treating that cancer in somebody her age.
At the time of diagnosis, Donalen was living in Anchorage working on finishing up a degree in art at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The cancer forced Donalen to relocate to Seattle for treatment that is expected to last about 15 months.
The whole Bowers family also decided to go to Seattle to support Donalen. Candice; Candice’s sister, KCHS sophomore Brandiee; and Candice’s mother, Helen, arrived in August. Candice’s father, Donald, has continued working in Anchorage and flying down to be with the family when possible.
“It’s nice that we’re all together, but we do miss our old life,” Candice said.
Candice said insurance is covering the medical costs, but other costs for a family living away from home for so long add up fast. After staying in a hotel for the first month, which Candice said was mostly covered by insurance, the family is now all in a big room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House.
Kenai Central volleyball coach Tracie Beck has coached Candice in volleyball since the fifth grade at K-Beach Elementary, with the exception of Candice’s sophomore year of high school.
As a teacher at K-Beach Elementary and then Kenai Middle School, Beck has gotten to know Candice well. Candice also has volunteered with Beck’s Kenai Middle School volleyball team, further strengthening the bond.
“Last year it was fun to see her emerge as a leader and a mentor loving on all the middle school kids,” Beck said. “She’s just a very mature kid, she’s very giving and she’s got a great work ethic in everything she does.”
Beck also knows Helen Bowers well, calling her an amazing, giving lady.
For about five years, the Kenai Central has done a volleyball game that raises money for breast cancer, nabbing over $25,000 in the process. Beck was feeling very helpless about not being able to help the Bowers when they were down in Seattle, with a gofundme account set up for Donalen being the only possibility.
Then it hit her: Why not change the breast cancer game this year to benefit the Bowers family?
Beck had the idea in early September and called the Bowers family on Sept. 11 to ask if they were interested.
“Coach called me one night when we just got home from the hospital when my sister was admitted,” Candice said. “It was one of the longer days.
“My mom was on the phone too, and so was my little sister. We all started crying. We’re so thankful the community is coming together to help us. The support was amazing.”
Beck said this fundraiser will be different than others because typically just the volleyball team is involved. This time, Kenai Middle School and Kenai Central High School are joining the effort.
The night includes:
• A silent auction for baskets. Baskets are being provided by every team member and family, plus this year teachers also have had baskets in their classrooms that students have been filling up.
• Simon Nissen, choir teacher at KCHS, and his students will perform the national anthem.
• Ribbons for sale, with different colors of ribbons representing different kinds of cancer.
• Rio Custodio’s famous egg rolls will be for sale. Rio is the mother of Roman Custodio, a manager for the volleyball team, and Beck said Rio’s egg rolls always draw a crowd.
• KCHS student leadership has been going around to local businesses getting donations, and also acquiring items for the balloon pop. In the balloon pop, fans buy a balloon and get to pop it to see the prize inside.
• Teacher John Morton will have pottery pieces for sale made by players and students.
Candice follows the volleyball team through social media and talking to friends on the team. She also has put missing her senior year, and enrolling in a Washington online school instead, in perspective.
“It doesn’t really matter to me because I want to go to college,” she said. “I think of high school as a milestone in life. It’s not like the end of my school years, so it’s not too big of a deal.”
But what is a big deal to her is the way everybody is coming together Tuesday night.
“It meant the whole world to us,” she said. “I do a lot for school leadership, (National Honor Society), and volunteer all the time around the schools.
“Just knowing the people I’ve volunteered for and helped out are helping me back is special.”