High School Sports

Young OLA basketball coach isn’t letting breast cancer win

Our Lady Academy's gymnasium was packed Wednesday night. Not just because rival Hancock was in town. Or because the Lady Crescents volleyball team is once again off to an incredible start. Both usually equate to a packed house.

Wednesday was especially big because the two communities came together for a “Pink Out” in support of OLA basketball coach Breanna Halley. A 2009 graduate of HHS, Halley is in the midst of a fight against stage 2 breast cancer.

Married last August, Halley was diagnosed 22 days before her 25th birthday in May. A plan to beat the disease was swiftly put into effect and Halley quickly began chemotherapy.

Halley, who is the daughter of Pass Christian girls basketball coach Greta Ainsworth, hasn't lightened her workload in the months since her diagnosis. She still teaches anatomy, physiology, physical science and seventh-grade science at OLA. On top of that, she coaches cross-country, basketball and track. It's a full load for anyone, much less someone who has more important things going on.

Halley, however, is determined to keep a sense of normalcy.

“It would be much easier to stay at home, much easier,” she said. “When I'm doing normal things I forget I have cancer, where as if I'm just sitting at home, that's all I think about.”

Doctors started Halley out with four doses of Adriamycin chemotherapy, nicknamed the “red devil.” She then transitioned to Taxol and has six more weeks of the latter.

The treatments caused Halley to lose her long, dark hair.

“The chemo definitely weighs on me. It has destroyed my body,” she said in her classroom Wednesday, removed from the cheers echoing in the gymnasium. “Every morning I get up it takes me way longer. I'm constantly in pain. It's miserable.

“That's been the toughest part. I thought losing my hair would be the worst part, but when it fell out it was just another thing.”

Halley considered wearing a wig or scarves to cover her head, but has instead opted to go without. As her treatments have progressed – and become more difficult, she said – not being constrained by a wig or scarves has actually become freeing.

“The day I got my hair cut I wore a wig home and I was done with it. And I wore a scarf on top of my head to one event and I was done with it because, to me, they make me look like I have cancer,” she said. “They make me look sickly. I feel a lot better without it.

“Sometimes I actually forget I don't have hair. I feel like it's on top of my head sometimes. Now I'm so used to it, it's almost calming. It feels good.”

Halley is scheduled to undergo a double mastectomy in November. Even with the procedure looming in the coming months, Halley has remained positive and upbeat.

While OLA and Hancock battled on the court Wednesday night, Halley and her husband, Zach, bounced around the pink saturated crowd, chatting with loved ones. That's just their collective personality.

“She has made it easier on me, that's for sure, because I was the one who needed picking up for a while,” Zach Halley said. “She had to be there for me at first. Everything is just easy because she makes it easy. The process has been hard, but she has made it as easy as possible.”

Raising funds and support

About a month before Wednesday's match, OLA volleyball coach Mike Meyers and athletics director Paul Langham began organizing the “pink out.” Both OLA and her alma mater, Hancock, sold pink shirts that say “beat breast cancer.” Even Gulfport's team, which is now headed by Halley's former coach, David Irwin, purchased shirts and wore them Tuesday night in support.

Prior to the varsity match Wednesday, Halley was presented with a check from the shirt sales to go toward her medical expenses. Family friend Mason Pope has also set up a Go Fund Me account. Those who want to donate can go to GoFundMe.com and search “Shave for Bre.” Why “Shave for Bre”? Because Pope's fire department participated in “No Shave November.” While many of his colleagues have since taken a razor to their face, Pope pledged to not shave his thick mustache until he raised $5,000. As of Wednesday night, the account was at $4,091.

“To know all these people are behind me and supporting me,” Halley said, “I can't even explain the feeling and how much it lifts me up.”

To help the Halley family, drop off checks at the OLA front office or mail them to 222 South Beach Blvd, Bay St. Louis, Miss., 39520.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs