by Vanessa Saltos
On Oct. 12 women’s soccer had their annual Pink Out game at College Creek Field where they played against Stanislaus State. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and to honor this the Lumberjacks wore pink jerseys sponsored by the Heather Janikowski Foundation. This foundation was started by women’s soccer player Megan Janikowski and her family to honor her mother Heather Janikowski after she passed away from her hard fought battle with cancer.
When Megan Janikowski was 10 years old her mother Heather Janikowski was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. Heather Janikowski would move to remission around 2013-2014 but later would find that the cancer spread to her brain in 2018. Sadly in 2021 it spread to her entire body and she passed away Jan. 19, 2022.
During her lifespan Heather Janikowski was a mother, physical therapist, P.E. teacher, and preschool teacher.
According to the foundation’s website, “Heather loved to support the local farmers markets and small shops as well as advocating for children and animals through a variety of non profit organizations and events.” Megan Janikowski didn’t want her mother to be another name that cancer took so the foundation was born.
“My mom recently died from brain cancer and she had just been fighting it for a very long time and after she passed away I felt like she left too big of an impact in her community to just be another name that cancer took,” Janikowski said. “So I wanted to make something where she still had an impact and I could help families that were going through what I [had] already been through or [in] need [of] any kind of extra help.”
Since starting this foundation, they’ve hosted events like a memorial hike, a 5K, and a bowling tournament. Megan Janikowski’s brother Dean Janikowski, a kicker for Washington State football, has also created a ‘pledge it’. A pledge it is when donors pledge a certain amount of money to be donated every time he makes a field goal or point after touchdown. With all these fundraising events they have already impacted lives as well.
“The first year we had a hike and the money there went towards a family who could not afford to pay for their daughters college tuition and it was kind of full circle because the girl that we picked she was actually one of my mom’s preschool students, so it was like full circle,” Janikowski said.
In January they hosted a 5 and they were able to help a 9-year-old boy named Mateo Yanez who was diagnosed with cancer. His family vehicle and washing machine had broken down. He wasn’t able to get to his doctors appointments and have basic needs but with the help of the Heather Janikowski Foundation, Yanez was able to go to more of his appointments and was accepted into a research development program for his own cancer. Yanez sadly passed away three days after his tenth birthday.
Loss is a very real reality when it comes to cancer and Megan Janikowski attributes her strong faith to the reason behind her being here today. What keeps her motivated on the field is her motto “do it for her”; her mother is now her reason why. Megan Janikowski takes her mom on the field with her by wrapping tape on her left wrist and writing “do it for her” on the front and “mom” on the inside. She also has “do it for her” on the tops of her cleats and “fly high” on the back.
“On the tops of both my cleats it says ‘do it for her’ and then on the back it says ‘fly high’ because I just think having that constant reminder that life is short and life is fragile, it helps me to appreciate the good and especially the bad times,” Janikowski said.
Having visual reminders is something that is needed and third year biology student Jonathan Sweeney appreciates the team for hosting an event like this.
“It’s important to have games like this so we can see something visual like the pink jerseys and have a conversation about it…I like that our teams are bringing awareness to stories like mine,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney lost his grandmother to lung cancer and has also had family members diagnosed with skin cancer. Third year business administration major Harry Singh has also lost a family member to lung cancer. His older cousin was just 10 years old when he passed away and it was hard for Singh to accept. Singh, being a student-athlete on the track and field team, understands the importance of bringing topics like this into the sports world.
“I think it is important that we bring up these topics to games because they allow us to compete for something bigger,” Singh said.
The proceeds from this game will be set aside for the women’s soccer team to choose who they want the money from the Heather Janikowski foundation to go to locally. Megan Janikowski is currently double majoring in biology and special education and wants to pursue a masters in the research and development of brain cancer.
“I just want to help as many families as I can and my master’s program will be in the research and development of brain cancer so I’m hoping I can aid in something research wise or anything to make an advancement to help find a cure,” Janikowski said.