Friendship, Awareness, and the Power of Tennis
“My love for tennis was a big part of my healing.”
Elaine Boswell sat back, trying to find the right words to describe her journey over the last seven years. She wouldn’t have survived the journey, she says, without tennis.
Today, she’s cancer-free and appreciating every moment of it.
It started for Boswell at a gynecology appointment in 2015. Seemingly routine at the time, she was getting ready to leave when her doctor came back in the room and asked her to sit back down. Something didn’t seem right, and she encouraged Boswell to schedule an ultrasound.
Boswell had a vacation to Florida planned for shortly after her appointment and initially wanted to delay her follow-up. But after advice from her doctor, she had the ultrasound done just before leaving for her trip.
Less than 72 hours after arriving in Florida, Boswell got the call. She had ovarian cancer.
“I was in a state of shock,” Boswell said. “We made arrangements with all of the testing. I got a plane ticket to get home and an appointment with an oncologist.”
After Boswell’s diagnosis in mid-March, she had her surgery on April 1 and began chemotherapy on April 13. Each day was difficult, but the thought of getting back on the tennis court added hope and motivation.
“Every time I would go to chemo, I would ask, ‘Can I play tennis next week?’” said Boswell. The doctor’s reply would usually be a resounding “No.”
Then one day, she heard a different response. The doctor told her that if she thought she could play, then she should give it a shot.
So, Boswell got out of bed, put her now loosely-fitting tennis shoes on (she was so thin from her treatments her feet barely fit), and made her way to the tennis court. She stayed on court for 30 minutes and jokingly credits that time for perfecting her lob.
Soon after, her sixth and final treatment came. It was her turn to ring the bell.
“It is incredibly moving to ring that bell, I can’t even explain it,” Boswell said. “It represents ‘Thank you, I made it. I’m getting out of here, I don’t have to come back.’ It’s amazing.”
Many do have to return. For Boswell, the outlook was positive.
- elaine boswell and team
With her chemotherapy treatments behind her, Boswell set her sights on helping other women and bringing awareness to ovarian cancer. Just 3.5 months after finishing chemotherapy, she held an event at Springton Tennis Club in Media, Pa. to raise awareness and funds. That event raised $8,000, and the idea for the organization Tennis for Teal was born.
“I was so grateful for my outcome and for each day,” she said. “I really wanted to do something that would help other women.”
Boswell’s mission to spread awareness continued and led her back to a tennis acquaintance. Nan Barash.
The two had met previously at a local club, when Barash — an outgoing team captain — introduced herself to Boswell. They exchanged contact information and bonded over family birthdays and common interests. Shortly after meeting, Barash followed up with Boswell to see if she would like to play, but Boswell, dealing with her recent diagnosis, was unable to connect.
So fast forward one year later and, unknowingly, Barash and Boswell’s paths crossed again. Barash, who once lost a friend to ovarian cancer and also lost her father to lung cancer at just 13, had joined a local call to help raise awareness for the disease. Boswell was on the same call.
The two recognized each other’s names and started up a conversation.
On the call, Boswell discussed her first Tennis for Teal event at Springton Tennis Club, sparking an idea in Barash.
“You can do what you did at Springton, and we can do it at a bunch of clubs,” Barash said. “And by then we had both mentally left that meeting, and we were ready to go have lunch together.”
“And really it all grew from that,” Boswell said.
For the next two years, Tennis for Teal was held on one night across three different clubs; Springton Tennis Club, Delaware Valley Tennis Academy (DVTA) Byrn Mawr, and Brandywine Racquet Club. It built a network of like-minded tennis players who wanted to help with a cause, and gave Boswell and Barash an opportunity to give back in a way close to their hearts.
It was something that Barash searched for decades – combining her love of tennis with the work she was doing with cancer awareness.
Another partnership blossomed when Barash, who is in the advertising and marketing business, was invited to a press conference regarding the move of the Philadelphia Freedoms from Villanova to St. Joseph’s. She invited Boswell to join her and the power team of ‘Boswell and Barash’ managed to meet with Freedoms owner and tennis legend Billie Jean King. King and the Freedoms put their support behind Boswell and Tennis for Teal, creating a beautiful partnership.
“We’ve all been touched by friends and family, and all of these people we meet,” Barbara Perry, Senior Vice President of Billie Jean King Enterprises said. “Seeing what this group does from the heart and how they are turning this around into something positive by saving lives and raising funds for research…it’s something very special.”
Something Barash and Boswell hear a lot is “How can I help?”
Their answer is normally quite simple. Barash and Boswell, who are growing Tennis for Teal at every opportunity, are hoping to raise awareness about ovarian cancer, and the challenges it brings to so many families. So while they do accept donations, their main goal isn’t necessarily about money.
“If we can start a conversation, and get one more person to schedule an appointment and get checked, that’s what we’re all about,” Barash said. “If all of this leads to one person reaching a better result, or being a part of one person’s life being saved, we are thrilled.”
There’s more. Barash and Boswell are currently organizing a Tennis for Teal Week, set for June 20-24, during which they’re asking tennis teams and any interested tennis player to wear teal during a match, to honor this cause. Anyone who participates and would like to submit a photo to Tennis for Teal can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, Boswell and Barash were contacted by the incredibly generous family of Christy Walker, who along with her husband, offered to match all donations made to the Elaine Boswell Tennis for Teal Research Fund (up to $25,000) during that week. Walker and Barash met after a doubles match one day. Walker said she felt inspired to contribute in a big way.
“Everything came together and felt like a great cause and the right thing to do,” Walker said. “Tennis is a very important part of my life for many reasons. I love to compete, I love to have fun, I love to meet new people. I feel privileged to have the health and time to play the sport. I feel privileged to have met some amazing women and athletes and to be inspired by them. And I feel great privilege to be able to make meaningful contributions to cancer research and to hopefully help advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.”
The money raised goes to research at Penn Medicine. The check will be presented to Barash and Boswell on June 24 at DVTA Bryn Mawr.
The two are excited for that week. They mentioned that anyone interested in contributing to the Elaine Boswell Tennis for Teal Fund can visit here to contribute to the donation.
“I’ve said many times that tennis helped save my life,” Boswell said. “It was my motivation to get better. Now, we get to use it to make a difference for others.”
“It’s all about the power of tennis,” added Barash. “It all began on the tennis court.”