By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Angelo Bombardiere knows a thing or two about saves.
As the goalkeeper for North Marion’s soccer team, the 17-year-old has stopped penalty shots. He’s turned away point-block attempts. He’s made sliding, diving and leaping saves.
But before each game when he throws on his pink socks, pink goalie gloves and — most importantly — his pink goalie jersey, he remembers the greatest save of all, a save that occurred years ago far away from any soccer field.
It had nothing to do with a goal or a game, but instead the life of a woman he calls his best friend and “Mom.”
Assuming the worst
Melissa Montgomery knew right away that something was wrong.
It was 2010 and Bombardiere’s mom was sitting in the doctor’s office. A few weeks earlier she had detected a suspicious lump on her breast. Unlike other lumps that would come and go, this one persisted. Even though she didn’t have insurance, she decided she had to make an appointment with a doctor.
The doctor ordered a mammogram. And then another. Then an ultrasound. That’s when Montgomery started to worry.
“I’ve had mammograms before so I knew that was a little unusual,” Montgomery said.
Two more visits and many hours of agonizing later, the doctor ordered a biopsy. It would be a week before she found out the results.
“That was a really long week,” she said.
When the results finally came back, Montgomery got her diagnosis. The lump on her breast, about the size of the tip of her pinky finger, was malignant. Montgomery had cancer.
“You just hear the word ‘cancer’ and you automatically assume the worst,” Montgomery said. “I was scared that I would lose a breast or maybe two. Or I was worried it would spread to somewhere else. I was pretty devastated for a while.”
Cancer is a scary word. But it wasn’t the first time Montgomery had heard it come from a doctor’s lips.
Her grandmother also had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy. Later she was diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and passed away.
Montgomery had already battled gynecologic issues earlier in her life as well. At the age of 23 she was required to have a hysterectomy due to complications of endometriosis and precancerous cells.
A surgical procedure to remove her uterus saved her the first time. But now here she was, back in the doctor’s office once again facing cancer.
“That kind of made it a little scarier,” she said.
When Montgomery was diagnosed with breast cancer she told her older son, Alex Bennett, who was about 15 at the time. But she decided it was best not to worry her younger son.
“Angelo is the type of kid, even when he was wee-little, he would worry about everything,” Montgomery said. “His grandfather passed away when he was 8. He had a massive heart attack and died. Angelo was actually at the house when that happened. His Nana was really sick with cancer when I found out (that I had cancer).”
But one afternoon, Bombardiere was in the living room and discovered some paperwork from the doctor that his mother mistakenly left out.
He asked his mother, “Is anything wrong? Is there anything you’re not telling me?”
“No, everything is fine,” she remembers saying.
Then he brought up the paperwork.
“Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag then,” Montgomery said.
Bombardiere was devastated.
“I hit the panic button,” he said. “I thought I was going to lose my mom.”
As Montgomery underwent the procedure and recovery, her two boys were ever-present by her side. They volunteered to clean the house and cook dinner and take out the trash and wash dishes and do all the other household chores that usually require the threat of grounding for teenage boys to complete.
“We kind of took it upon ourselves to take care of my mom,” Bombardiere said.
“Angelo is a nurturer,” Montgomery said. “When he was little we nicknamed him ‘Mother Hen’ because if there was any other young kid or person around, he’s the first one to help them. He genuinely cares about people.”
In addition to the housework, Bombardiere, who was 11 years old at the time, did little things to brighten his mother’s day. He would tell her jokes. And he left little notes around the house.
His mom would come home and find a note on her bed: “Mom, I love you. I made your bed.”
“He would misspell something, but it would be cute,” Montgomery said.
Every night Montgomery and her two sons would gather around the bed and pray.
“We prayed every night. It’s in God’s hands,” she said. “Faith is about the only thing we have.”
‘That’s what saves lives’
The good news, if there ever is any good news with a cancer diagnosis, is that Montgomery caught it early. The cancer cells were still relatively small and hadn’t had a chance to spread to other parts of the body so it could be completely treated with surgery and did not require chemotherapy.
At the time of the surgical procedure, the doctors removed the cancer as well as some surrounding breast tissue. When they tested the area, they found that all the surrounding tissue was benign. They got it all.
But the fear of the cancer returning constantly lingers.
Each year Montgomery visits United Hospital Center and Fairmont General Hospital for a free mammogram and gynecologic examination. As a single mother who works two jobs, Montgomery is one of 48 million uninsured Americans who depends on these free services, according to the Census Bureau.
“I really appreciate that they do it in October, but it’s just a shame that they only do it in October,” she said. “I understand about the financial aspect, but they only take so many people. I understand that, too. But if I call a little bit late, they might already be filled up.
“I think it’s a shame that a lot of places will work you full time, but will still consider you part time so they don’t have to insure you.”
Despite the obstacles, Montgomery and her son feel it’s essential that people take it upon themselves to get checked regularly.
“Early prevention and early detection, that’s what saves lives,” Montgomery said.
‘I love you, Mom’
This season Bombardiere made the switch from midfielder to goalie.
The change in position also came with a change in uniform. Soccer goalies wear a different color jersey from the rest of the team to distinguish themselves and let the other team know they can touch the ball.
At first, Bombardiere considered a Spider-Man jersey. But then he was online and saw a pink one.
“Right away I knew that was the one I wanted,” he said.
Last season North Marion held its annual “Pink Game” and Bombardiere wrapped pink tape on his ankles and wrote, “I love you, Mom” on them. His mother still has the tape as a keepsake, so this season Bombardiere thought why not make every game a pink game.
“Unfortunately, cancer is something that we have to live with. We all as a community need to remind people to get check-ups, just to remind people that it could happen to anyone at any time,” he said. “It’s something that I support, first of all for my mom, but I just support the cause.”
When he told his mother his plans for the jersey, she was touched.
“I was very honored that he would do that,” she said. “He told me he would wear the pink jersey for me, because I’m still with him and we’re both very fortunate that I’m here.”
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.