• D.J. Simpson will play in the annual Pink Arrow Pride game as one of its beneficiaries
  • A sea of pink at last year’s game (photo courtesy Lowell High School yearbook staff)

‘Way More Than Just a Game’

Cancer Survivor to Play in 10th Annual Pink Arrow Game

by Morgan Jarema  

D.J. Simpson has cheered with his family from the stands during Lowell High School's Pink Arrow Pride games for as long as he can remember. In fact, "I can't really remember not going to one," D.J. said. "It's just always been a thing."

He now knows the football game to raise cancer awareness and funds to help those in the community is so much more than just a thing.

Lowell's 10th Annual Pink Arrow Pride games vs. East Grand Rapids for volleyball, soccer and football
Doors open at 2:30; football game at 7:10 p.m., Friday, Sept. 8, Lowell High School's Bob Perry Field.

Quiver 5k run and walk
9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 9, 300 Avery St.
Adults: $25 each; children: $15; cost varies for students and team entries.
Funds raised will go to support Gilda's Club Lowell in aiding families with expenses as they undergo cancer treatments.

Tonight, the varsity linebacker will step onto the field for the 10th annual event as a player and a beneficiary of Pink Arrow.

D.J. was diagnosed in January with papillary thyroid cancer. He underwent surgery just before spring break to remove the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of his neck and four lymph nodes.

"They think they got everything," he said. "I get blood drawn every six weeks, but so far I'm clean."

Though practices have taken a lot out of him energy-wise, D.J. said he is looking forward to playing, as well as walking onto the field with his parents as part of the pregame tradition of honoring those who are fighting or have fought the disease.

"It's definitely going to be a lot to take in," he said. "I know it will be this sea of pink, and it will be the most people I've ever played in front of. But it has a whole new meaning to me now, all those people who bought the T-shirts. I never really realized how much that means.

Lowell senior Logan VanderMeulen embraces a cancer survivor he played in honor of in 2016 (photo courtesy Lowell High School yearbook staff)"It's more than a game. It's way more than just a game."

Millions Raised Over Years

Since its inaugural year, Pink Arrow has raised $3.5 million and has helped some 350 local families with scholarships, expenses associated with treatment and programs at Gilda's Club in Lowell, which opened with help from Pink Arrow proceeds.

The effort includes organizations such as Lowell Community Wellness; Mercy Health's Lacks Cancer Center and Spectrum Health's Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion. The project also was featured on NBC's "Today" show, and has inspired similar high school football awareness games across the country.

Pink Arrow Project is the brainchild of Lowell's football coach, Noel Dean.
It brings in more than $100,000 a year, all of which remains in the community.

Programs for K-12 students are funded through the effort. Those have included trips to Gilda's and Grand Rapids cancer centers for older students and presentations on grief, nutrition and mental health.

Pink Arrow also has established scholarships in honor of late Lowell teacher Kathy Talus, who died of cancer; and Dr. Donald Gerard, who provides medical care for student athletes.

As for the next 10 years, Pink Arrow chairwoman Teresa Beachum said she wouldn't mind if the event wasn't around 10 years from now if it meant a cure was found.

In the meantime, she said, volunteers are needed for future events and to relieve longtime volunteers. Those interested can submit a contact form on the Pink Arrow Pride website.

Pink Arrow 2017 logo"It's nice to have people supporting you, to know that people are behind you," D.J. said. "Even after I was diagnosed, we didn't really even think of Pink Arrow, but somebody from there contacted us, and they have supported us. They were definitely there ... a big presence in and for the community."

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Video Credit: Pink Arrow Education Committee and Eric Dimmick Cinematography

Submitted on: September 8th 2017

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