Reds' honorary Bat Girl recalls games with grandpa

Atkins, a cancer survivor, nominated by Cincinnati chapter of Komen Foundation

CINCINNATI -- Going to the ballpark was always special for Caitlin Adkins growing up. It usually meant a trip with her grandfather. Her visits hold even more meaning now.

Adkins was given the diagnosis last June 5 that she had Stage 3 HER2 breast cancer. She was just 23 years old when she forgot about her age, and how breast cancer isn't usually associated with someone so young, and listened to herself to go get tested. She pushed to have a mammogram.

On Sunday, Mother's Day, Adkins is being honored as this year's Reds winner of the Honorary Bat Girl contest. She recently turned 24 and after six rounds of chemotherapy, multiple hospital stays that included three surgeries that lasted a total of nearly six hours in one day, and 30 rounds of radiation, she said she is cancer free.

"This last year has been a whirlwind," said Adkins, originally from the town of Hillsboro in Highland County about 60 miles to the east of Cincinnati. She now lives in Amelia and works for Lowe's Home Improvement, where she had just received a promotion before getting her diagnosis.

"You go from really high point in your life to learning that you have cancer and it's a lot more aggressive than what we thought it was," said Adkins. "That puts you at a really low, but I had all of these incredible people around me where I work. They're absolutely phenomenal. I keep telling them all of the time, I'm positive this is the place I'm supposed to be right now."

HER2 is a protein that attaches itself to cancer cells and acts as an accelerant for the disease. When Adkins first discovered her lump, the mass was measured at 3.2 centimeters.

"Within three weeks of me starting chemo and everything like that, it was seven centimeters. It grew that much. That's considered a tumor at that point," she said.

Adkins underwent three surgeries on Dec. 22; a bi-lateral mastectomy, removal of two lymph nodes and the beginning of reconstruction.

"It's been heartbreaking," said Caitlin's mother, Connie Storms. "When I got the news it was very heartbreaking, knowing that everything that she may have wanted to do with her life may have had to be put on hold until she could get everything straightened out."

All of the radiation, all of the surgeries - all of everything - has been worth it. The tumor is no more.

"Where we've come from, where there's nothing, a really small town," said Storms. "It's a chance of a lifetime. We're really excited for her. It took a lot of people to get the vote out there for her. We did a big push on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog (Cait-Nicole-Adkins@tumblr.com)."

Major League Baseball began the Honorary Bat Girl in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" program initiated to celebrate on Mother's Day. The program is supported by MLB's charitable partners, Stand Up To Cancer and the Susan G. Koman Foundation.

The Cincinnati chapter of the Koman Foundation nominated Adkins.

"When we met this positive, bouncy ray of sunshine, we knew there was no stopping her," read part of the nomination essay submitted by the Koman Foundation. "Her message to other young women: Know your body and don't be afraid to step up and point something out to your doctor."

This is the third game Adkins has attended this season. She was a part of the Koman Foundation's entry in the Opening Day Parade before going to the game. It all brings her back to those earlier trips to the ballpark with her grandfather.

"I remember going with my grandfather, who has passed away -- we would go to Reds games all of the time," said Adkins. "Going to a Reds game, or any baseball game in general, there's just a total different feel and atmosphere. I love being around the atmosphere. It's great."

Even more so now.

Authentic game-used Louisville Slugger pink bats and other gear from Mother's Day games will be auctioned exclusively at MLB.com, with proceeds benefiting the fight against breast cancer. The complete Mother's Day collection -- which includes the special caps and jerseys being worn by players on Sunday -- is available at the MLB.com Shop.

Kevin Goheen is a contributor to MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.