At exactly 6:28 p.m. on Sept. 1, the baseball world was introduced to Olivia Perez.
And WooSox’ Ryan Fitzgerald took notice.
Olivia stepped onto the mound at Polar Park and unleashed a perfect ceremonial first pitch. The 5,896 fans in attendance, including Fitzgerald, gave her a standing ovation.
The WooSox contacted Olivia’s mother, Felicia, and asked if her 12-year-old daughter would accept an invite to be a guest of honor for Childhood Cancer Awareness Night. The family quickly agreed, and it became Olivia’s first experience with America’s pastime.
“They really make all the kids feel like celebrities,” Felicia Perez said of the WooSox. “They make all the kids feel important. It was really, really cool.”
Olivia, now 13, of Pepperell, is battling medulloblastoma, which is an aggressive form of brain cancer. Fortunately, she has been responding well to treatment and is scheduled to have another MRI in the coming weeks.
Olivia first began to feel symptoms in May. Her mother noticed her daughter wasn’t acting like herself. Her personality changed and she became short-tempered with her mother.
“She’s easy going and nothing upsets her,” Felicia said. “She just seemed kind of off, and then she started having fainting episodes. She would be talking, then just blank out and fall.”
Felicia explained she argued with doctors for a couple of weeks until finally they agreed to perform an MRI. It was cancer. Ironically, Olivia was diagnosed on World Brian Tumor Awareness Day, which is June 8.
‘One of the toughest people I have ever met’
On June 17, she had surgery to remove a grade 4 brain tumor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Soon after she began chemotherapy and she’s a Jimmy Fund Kid at Dana Farber in Boston. Emotionally, Felicia said her daughter is handling it well.
“She’s always been one of the toughest kids I have ever met,” Felicia said. “She handles everything with grace and dignity. There’s nothing Olivia ever faces where she backs down – ever. She’s been like that since birth. She’s a go-getter. She’s very quiet and reserved, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever met.”
Keeping a promise (with a special gift)
When Fitzgerald first met Olivia he promised to visit her after the season was over. The surprise visit was planned, but Olivia was in the hospital, so it was rescheduled. Only a few days before Christmas break, Fitzgerald arrived at Nissitissit Middle School Dec. 21 in…