Sitting around a dinner table one evening, McCall Zerboni, a UCLA alumnus and professional soccer player, told friends about her tattoo of a butterfly with a pink ribbon through it.
The tattoo, Zerboni told them, commemorates her aunt who passed away in November 2009 from breast cancer.
Zerboni remembers her aunt as her biggest fan, who came rain or shine to every UCLA soccer game while Zerboni played at the school from 2005 to 2009. In 2008, her aunt was diagnosed with cancer for the first time. She went into remission, which gave Zerboni hope that her aunt would make a full recovery.
Her breast cancer, however, returned in October 2009. She died within a month of learning that her cancer had returned.
“It was difficult to see her die slowly every day, and not having her there to push me made it difficult for me to work harder and push myself,” Zerboni said.
Her experience confronting cancer is the reason behind a bright pink sports bra on eBay bearing her signature.
Female athletes signing sports bras with encouraging messages is the centerpiece of a fundraiser for breast cancer research launched by Zerboni and family friend David Bayer, who brought his family to watch Zerboni play professionally for the Atlanta Beat.
Meeting the Bayer family personally, Zerboni quickly developed a sisterly friendship with their daughter Emma.
Emma heard Zerboni’s story of watching her aunt suffer from breast cancer and was moved to help Zerboni raise money to support breast cancer research.
Now, their names are shared in the name of the foundation, “MZ & Emmers Sports Bra Auction for Breast Cancer.” The first annual auction last year included a collection of 84 sports bras signed and decorated by professional women’s soccer players.
Zerboni recruited fellow soccer players to participate in the auction. The athletes buy and sign the sports bras, and then the foundation sells the bras on eBay.
“Everyone was pretty supportive because breast cancer is something that has affected a lot of people, indirectly or directly,” Zerboni said.
The auction made a total of $4,400 last year. Proceeds were donated to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, a global organization aimed at increasing awareness of breast cancer and funding research for the cure, said Carey Bayer, David Bayer’s wife.
This year’s sale started last Saturday and will continue until Sunday on eBay. The auction has also expanded to include all of women’s athletics, said Carey Bayer.
David Bayer has reached out to athletes through Facebook and through word of mouth from participating athletes, and has collected 180 bras for this year’s auction, Carey Bayer said.
Many of the professional soccer players have been willing to participate because they know of Zerboni, David Bayer said.
Participants include the U.S. women’s water polo team, Laila Ali, professional boxer and daughter of Muhammad Ali, and Jane Fonda, fitness guru and an Academy Award winning actress, among other professional athletes.
One of the athletes donating a bra for this year’s auction was Jen Hanks, a professional mountain biker. Hanks was particularly moved by the auction because of her past experience with the cause ““ in 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was scared ““ scared of not being able to race, scared for my life,” Hanks said.
Hanks said her own battle with breast cancer made her eager to participate in the auction to raise money for research.
“I was only 35 at the time and I didn’t know what happened in my life to cause it, and that’s something I’ll have to learn to live with,” Hanks said.
This year, the foundation hopes to raise around $10,000, and will donate their proceeds to three different breast cancer organizations.
“The foundation hasn’t given me closure, but it has given me something to fight for and makes me feel like I’m making a difference, preventing someone else from going through what I went through,” she said.