Moms Play Flag Football for Breast Cancer Research

Second annual Mom Ball: Battle for the Battle! flag football event raises more than $37,000 for breast cancer research at Mass General.

On a cool and crisp October night, 160 mothers from the Hamilton-Wenham area of Massachusetts took to the field to participate in a flag football game known as the Mom Ball: Battle for the Battle! It was a community fundraising event that raised $37,000 for the ESSCO-MGH Breast Cancer Research Fund at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“It’s OK to ask for help. And it’s OK to rely on friends. You need your community around you.”

Event organizers Jeannine Ryan and Lisa Fall had spent four seasons coaching an elementary-age girls’ flag football team. They taught the girls how to work hard, not give up and trust their teammates. Jeannine heeded those football lessons herself when, in 2017, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Then 40, Jeannine had no family history of the disease, no genes linked to it and no risk factors. Fortunately, her cancer was caught early. She took an aggressive approach to treatment and had a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction at Mass General. She did not need radiation or chemotherapy.

Relying on Her Team

What Jeannine did need was the support of her family and community. Her mother moved in to help Jeannine’s husband, Patrick, and their girls, Emma, Molly and Clare, who were 10, 8 and 5 at the time. Lovingly, her daughters cared for her by changing her bandages and gathering her long hair into a ponytail when she could not fix it herself.

Event organizers Jeannine Ryan (left) and Lisa Fall.
Event organizers Jeannine Ryan (left) and Lisa Fall.

Lisa Fall was there, too, along with so many others. Lisa’s husband walked Jeannine’s dog and Lisa brought over care packages with funny magazines. Other friends drove Jeannine’s girls to activities and sports practices.

Jeannine lives a normal life now, continues to work as a nurse and takes medication to keep her estrogen in check to help prevent the cancer from returning.

“I hope what my daughters gained from my experience with cancer is that you can face adversity and get through it,” she explains. “It’s OK to ask for help. And it’s OK to rely on friends. You need your community around you.”

From Sidelines to Field

In 2018, New England Flag Football, the organization for which Jeannine’s three daughters play, decided to host a tournament for moms. Jeannine saw it as an opportunity to fundraise and help the many women and families affected by breast cancer.

She wanted to give back to Mass General. Jeannine says she is so grateful to Barbara Smith, MD, PhD, her Mass General surgeon, that she cannot think about her without tearing up. All of her doctors, nurses and clinicians were kind and helpful, she adds.

BeCause is a group of friends and supporters who fundraise by organizing and participating in events, social gatherings and online campaigns.

The event, called Mom Ball: Battle for the Battle! is held in October, during Breast Cancer Awareness month. In its first year, Mom Ball raised about $20,000 for the ESSCO-MGH Breast Cancer Research Fund, an effort that like all Mass General research programs, brings cutting-edge advances swiftly from the scientific lab to patients through treatments that save and improve lives.

Then, in 2019, Jeannine and Lisa took on the Mom Ball event and expanded it.

Community Supports Breast Cancer Research

The second event attracted a larger crowd and raised $37,000. Pingree School in South Hamilton gave the group access to their turf field at no cost. A local high school teacher who announces high school football games, Joe Maher, called the play action. High school football players served as referees and students took photos and sold raffle tickets.

Mom Ball is registered with Mass General’s BeCause community. BeCause is a group of friends and supporters who fundraise by organizing and participating in events, social gatherings and online campaigns. Lisa says using the BeCause online fundraising site really got the event off to a good start.

In recognition of their efforts, New England Flag Football gave Jeannine and Lisa its 2019 John Cusolito Community Spirit Award. The award is given to individuals who demonstrate qualities such as volunteerism, courage, compassion, kindness, inclusiveness and empathy. In honor of the coaching friends, the organization also donated to breast cancer research at Mass General.

To learn more about Mom Ball: The Battle for the Battle, or to make a donation, please visit the campaign website.

For additional information about how you can hold a fundraiser for Mass General, please visit our BeCause website.