Wearing her new cleats and her own Hughesville softball jersey, Addison Hauser took her place inside the pitching circle and commanded attention. She is only 7, but had no trouble throwing from the varsity rubber and whirled a strike. Moments later she and older sister Latisha took a lap and received high-fives from Hughesville and South Williamsport players.
Later on at Tuesday's Strike Out Cancer Game, Addison sprinted around while the high school teams played their game, eating candy and having fun. Latisha took her place behind the plate and caught on her way to earning a third straight varsity letter.
Addison and Latisha look and act like every other person their ages. They are normal kids. They just fight a daily battle many their ages cannot comprehend.
Sisters, Addison, with glove, and Latisha Hauser, swap high-fives with members of the South Williamsport softball on Tuesday at Hughesville.
Addison and Latisha both are fighting cancer. Addison has colon cancer and her colon was removed last year. She had three surgeries performed in the past year and two more are scheduled.
Latisha already has fought colon cancer as has their mother, Destini McQuillen. It is an ongoing battle for all three due to a genetic condition. Latisha, a junior, had her colon removed when she was 9 and currently has cancer cells in her esophagus. She will be tested June 13 to see if she has to start chemotherapy or if her medicine can just be increased.
Whatever the situation, Addison and Latisha keep fighting. Cancer has hurt their bodies but not their spirits.
"They are amazing," father Michael McQuillen said. "Words can't describe how strong they are and how much they inspire us."
Destini fights a similar battle every day. The genetic condition is permanent and everything done to combat it is preventive.
At times, it seems like forces are aligning against the family but they all remain upbeat. A normal week includes an average of three hospital visits, usually to Geisinger in Danville, but sometimes to Hershey and Pittsburgh. Still, nothing stops this family and Addison and Latisha keep going strong.
"Latisha tells me that it wouldn't be us if we didn't have this to fight," Destini said. "We really don't know life without it, but the kids don't get down. They keep us strong and don't grasp why people would treat them different."
They are not different, but have fought different circumstances than most. Addison has been fighting since she was born. As an infant, she was deaf and could not talk. Doctors doubted things would ever change, but Addison disagreed.
Surgery was performed and she was on medicine for a while, but Addison hears fine now while suffering no speech impediment. She has her rough days, but still attacks them with vigor and energy, something the biggest Hughesville softball crowd this season witnessed Tuesday.
"She is amazing," Destini said. "She is my miracle child."
Latisha has been with Addison every step of her journey. Rare is the person who can relate to everything Addison is going through, but Latisha knows it all. She has experienced so much of it and is Addison's rock.
Addison has watched Latisha beat the odds all her life and she is doing all she can to follow in her sister's footsteps. Tuesday, that is exactly what she was doing before the game, acting as her shadow and eagerly awaiting the chance to show the crowd her stuff.
Together, the sisters standing side by side were a symbol of strength.
"They are inseparable," Michael said. "They share the same room and neither one does much of anything without her sister by her side. At every hospital appointment, Latisha was right there by her side."
Hughesville softball started holding Strike Out Cancer games last year and is promoting awareness for a different form each year. Motivated by Addison and Latisha, Hughesville promoted colon cancer Tuesday while wearing dark blue jerseys and raising hundreds of dollars for both Addison and the American Cancer Society. A few months ago, the players picked Addison to throw out the first pitch.
Going through a difficult stretch, Addison gathered strength upon hearing the news. On the verge of having to go back to the hospital and be put on a feeding tube, she started eating again and soon was back to full strength, counting down the days until May 7. As the days passed, Addison's involvement grew. By Tuesday, she was the main attraction.
The pink ball Addison whizzed to catcher Kaitlyn Laforme was hers to keep as was one of the softballs with inspirational quotes that South players signed for her and Latisha. And the celebratory lap she took brought as much joy to players from both teams as it did herself.
"It's always great to play benefit games and to have them (Addison and Latisha) there made it really special," South catcher Sarah March said. "To do this for someone and to see them so happy makes me feel so good inside."
"When they saw the little girl (Addison) come up to them and they could see her excitement and still being a kid that really touched them," South coach Scott Stugart said. "It was really special and was really nice seeing the reactions of everyone when they saw the girl with a smile on her face and being excited and being a kid."
Addison and Latisha have long been kids battling grown-up problems. They do all the things kids their ages do, they just handle themselves with a maturity beyond their years. Many in the community know about the struggles the sisters go through, but neither one advertises it.
They live far from ideal lives, but Addison and Latisha soldier on. Obstacles are constant but they continue knocking them down. Adults are often considered the role models, but in Hughesville two young kids are proving that there is no age limit on that term.
"We just take every day one at a time and stay optimistic," Destini said. "That's all you can do."
Cancer has knocked down Addison and Latisha but it has never knocked them out. The sisters will not let the disease destroy their lives or their enjoyment. Cancer may have met its match.
"They are 10 years apart but they battle everything together," Destini said. "They are fighters."