When Hannah Komai was a little girl watching baseball games at Dodger Stadium, she always brought along her catcher’s mitt — just in case a home run sailed her way.
|Hannah Komai, center, and her father, Neil Komai, right, meet Dodgers pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. (Photo by Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers 2011)|
Now 21, Komai returned to the stadium on June 26. But this time she stepped onto the pitcher’s mound to throw the honorary first pitch, hurling a baseball to her father — a cancer survivor, just like her. The two shared a warm hug after their achievement. Komai later declared, “It was the best day of my life.”
They were among many City of Hope and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles patients and doctors honored during ThinkCure Weekend, which raised more than $350,000 for cancer research at both institutions.
Just the summer before, Komai had gotten her first taste of independence. She completed junior college and was poised to enter Pacific Lutheran College in Tacoma, Wash., on a scholarship.
Komai got together with her family in July 2010 to attend a Los Angeles Dodgers game, and the next day she saw her orthopedist to follow up on her persistent leg pain. She was astonished to learn she had osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
She was referred to City of Hope. Under the care of Judith Sato, M.D., director of the Musculoskeletal Tumor Program, she underwent 15 weeks of intense chemotherapy. Dominic Femino, M.D., chief of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, then removed about six inches of her femur, her knee and several inches of her tibia. Last month, Komai completed her final round of additional chemotherapy — and she is now in remission.
“Cancer has changed my life forever,” she said. “It has brought people into my life whom I would have never met. I have formed relationships that will last a lifetime. I have been able to spend time with my family and friends that I would have never spent otherwise.”
It also caused her to switch career paths from physical therapy to oncology nursing.
“I always believed that if you let the cancer get you, it will,” she said. “I needed to be positive and able to laugh and joke about my illness. My family and friends followed my lead.”
Her upbeat outlook helped her father, Neil Komai (who has fully recovered from prostate cancer discovered in 2009), as well as other cancer patients she befriended.
She has loved baseball and the Dodgers since her days as a Little Leaguer, so the first-pitch invitation was a natural.
After she was interviewed on television, she heard encouraging words from Dodger icons Manny Mota, Hiroki Kuroda, Andre Ethier and Tommy Lasorda, and then adjourned to a stadium suite where she and her family and friends enjoyed the game.
As the Dodgers closed out the win, her experience was summed up by the Dodgers’ traditional eighth-inning anthem. The song? “Don’t Stop Believing.”