How Being a Retired Athlete Saved My Life
As they wheel me back to surgery, I just stare up. Everyone has masks on and I am worried about two things. Will I see my family again? Are they going to shave my head? He promised he wouldn’t. That is all I can think about.
Back in the OR the nurse has on a Saint Paddy’s day headdress. She comes to my defense when I am told to stop crying. She tells me to cry all I want, get it out. I start counting backwards, 7.
It’s my senior year at the University of Richmond, I finished my career strong on the field hockey team. I am just like every other senior, worried about graduation and jobs, at the time I had no idea I hung my turfs up for the last time in November. It’s two weeks after my 22nd birthday, when I get the call that surgery is scheduled for March 6th 2012.
My new goal is to be the healthiest patient in that hospital. My friend on the soccer team is doing high intensity training with me as I prepare for the surgery.
This time my training is completely different from what it used to be, this time I’m training to survive. I don’t really know what to expect so fear is propelling me forward.
I wake up screaming with a headache. I feel the head dress, and search desperately for my ponytail. The nurse in my room reassures me and says, “don’t worry, your hair is all there. He only had to shave a very small one inch wide, seven inch line down your head.”
I instantly break into tears. My brother shaves his head to match.
The surgery is successful but leaves me with a form of seizures on the left side of my body.
I am awake during them, I lose feeling and use of that side during the focal seizure. I am left with weakness in my left leg. Sometimes my leg will ache and not cooperate. It even affects my handwriting. Accepting this fate is hard. This means no more sports.
I’ve taken up coaching, this has been difficult because I can’t show the skills that used to be second nature. Things I would just do instinctively are now hard to demonstrate. My coach teaches me that I can help in more ways that are not always on a field.
I’ve lost my hair after radiation, this has been very hard. When I am in the shower, it just falls out in massive clumps into my hands as I try to wash out the conditioner. I collapse in a heap, just holding it. My step-mom waits outside when I shower so I can hand her the hair. Each time I hand her a clump a wave of shock comes over me.
I’m completely bald at Thanksgiving. We are eating dinner when I laugh so hard my wig falls into my plate. For the first time in months, my family is laughing and crying with joy.
It’s my third biopsy, I’ve come to accept that this is just how it is going to be. This time it feels like it’s going to be a walk in the park.
It has been a long ten years knowing it was there, even after all of the treatments. I’m not scared when they wheel me back, I ask a million questions and we are even laughing. I walk out of the hospital on the same day.
I find out several days later, I am officially a brain tumor survivor.
Since 2012, I have done more chemo treatments than I want to count, six and a half weeks of radiation, lost my hair three times, and have had a total of three brain surgeries.
I know that my attitude through all of this was shaped by athletics, it taught me how to never give up.
Being an athlete saved my life. I am stronger now than I was the last time I stepped off that field. The kind of strong I am may have changed, I may not be the hockey player I was, but I am mentally strong to face things head on.
While I have given up coaching, I am helping those around me in other ways. I have been able to talk to kids in my community who want to play at the college level.
My senior year at our banquet, each senior was given a word. Mine was Strength.
Little did I know, that word would define my attitude for the rest of my life. The experience and accomplishments as a collegiate athlete are something I will have with me my whole life. My entire life, I have been an athlete. There are many steps an athlete can take when they retire.
While my turfs are hung up for good, my spirit and drive as an athlete lives on.