By Joseph Staszewski
Erin Blum kept telling Clare Droesch she wasn’t going to let her St. Edmund Prep basketball team lose to Bishop Kearney.
“Erin was like, ‘We are not losing this game. We are not losing this game,’” the former Christ the King star and St. Edmund assistant coach said. “They were all like, ‘We are not losing.’”
The players had dedicated Feb. 1’s contest to Droesch, who was on the bench despite fatigue from her first round of chemotherapy just days earlier to treat stage 4 breast cancer. St. Edmund held on for a one-point win over division-leading Kearney and the players all hugged her after it was over.
“It felt so genuine,” Droesch said. “It was probably one of the best feelings I’ll remember for a long time.”
It’s moments like that, she said, that will get her through her own personal and serious uphill battle. The 29-year-old Rockaway native was diagnosed with cancer in November and it has spread to her spine, hips and lymph nodes. The reality still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. To her, it’s all a bad dream right now.
“It’s like, ‘Come on.’ Here is a good kid who’s working hard to coach, wants to play,” said Christ the King head Coach Bob Mackey, who used to live blocks away from Droesch in Rockaway. “It’s just not fair. It never is.”
Droesch, who has limited Empire Blue medical insurance, has already gone through multiple tests. She has been denied coverage for her cancer treatments at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and could see costs skyrocket, but is trying to work with the hospital’s finance office.
“She is going to need all the help she can get from all facets of life, so it’s great that people are reaching out,” said Royals assistant Jill Cook, who has known Droesch for more than 20 years.
A family friend has already arranged for a town car to take her to treatments. The St. Edmund players set up a Giants jersey day Friday, when kids paid a dollar that went to Droesch’s medical costs, to wear Giants apparel. Bake sales are being organized and the money collected at the door at Eagles basketball games will also be donated.
According to Eagles Coach Dan Doelger, the Fontbonne Hall team will give a portion of its walk-a-thon money. Both Christ the King and St. Edmund itself are still figuring out the best way to help.
“The way they want to give back and the things people want to do for me, the only word I can say is overwhelmed,” Droesch said. “I’m so used to giving. I always want to make someone feel better and put a smile on someone’s face. It’s pretty unbelievable the amount of support.”
People can donate money online by going to graybeards.com and clicking on donations. The Rockaway-based organization will also be having a fund-raiser for her March 2 at the Knights of Columbus. Droesch, who played her collegiate ball at Boston College before playing overseas, said there will also be fund-raisers in Boston and Hawaii, among other places he’s been throughout her life. For updates and information, one can also go to the Friends of Crush Cancer Fund for Clare Facebook page.
“If anyone can beat it, she can and what an inspiration she’ll be to the younger people out there when she beats it, because she will beat it,” Doelger said.
Droesch was an all-American at Christ the King, leading the Royals to three-straight state Federation titles at the highest classification and went 106-10 in four years. Mackey said she was the best pure shooter the Royals ever had. She went on to lead Boston College to four straight NCAA tournaments before playing overseas in Portugal. Droesch’s coaching stops included UMass, Vanderbilt and St. John’s. Last year, as an assistant, she helped guide Scholars Academy to the PSAL Class B title.
“I think that’s something special that she has,” Cook said. “She knows how to get the best out of kids and basketball players. She knows how to leave an impression on them.”
Coaching keeps Droesch going. Despite the ability to take as much time as she needs, she has missed just one St. Edmund game since being diagnosed and three practices. Even on days where she doesn’t feel well physically, she knows by showing up at the gym her spirits will be lifted by the players and she will be happy.
“I have to be strong throughout this whole process,” Droesch said. “[I want to] show my high school team and all the other kids out there how strong I am, by showing up to things and being there. If I can beat this, you can beat anything.”