Cheering Their Victories
From July 28, 2000 Hampshire Life Magazine
Recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, longtime sports fan Casey Kane takes a new look at superstars – and cancer survivors – Lance Armstrong and Andres Galarraga.
By Casey Kane
I grew up a sports fan. Like my friends, I watched baseball and football, basketball and the occasional hockey game. But in my household, we also followed track and field, triathlons and bicycling races, like the Tour de France.
Last year, I watched with awe highlights of the Tour, one of the toughest sporting events a man can endure. And with patriotic pride and dumbfounded amazement, I cheered Lance Armstrong's victory, not only over the field of elite athletes and the grueling course, but over the cancer that had nearly cost him his life.
Armstrong, only the second American to ever win the Tour, was 25 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer which had spread to his brain. He battled back to race again at the elite level. Race and win. Win the biggest challenge his sport offers, with the cheers of millions, myself included, behind him.
This year, I am cheering even harder.
In January, I was diagnosed with cancer. I am 24 years old. I am nowhere close to being an elite athlete - although I swam for eight years with the Holyoke YMCA, and participated in swimming, field hockey and tennis while in high school - but I had a life that was forever changed in one moment.
I have Hodgkin's disease, a lymphoma that commonly attacks younger victims without rhyme or reason. The survival rate is high, but the fear that accompanies every other type of the disease comes along with Hodgkin's as well.
I feel a special connection to Armstrong, because of my cancer. He is an inspiration. So too, is Andres Galarraga, the Atlanta Braves All-Star first baseman who returned to baseball this season after taking last year off to battle the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma he was diagnosed with in the spring.
I now live in the South, and have attended several Braves games this season. Every time Galarraga steps into the batter's box, I am on my feet.
It's not hard to explain why I feel so strongly now about two men whose lives I paid minimal attention to until recently. It's because I have been where they have been. They have had to tell loved ones about their diseases, as I have. They have struggled to say the C-word out loud, as I did when I choked out the words to my parents while I lay in a hospital bed 1,000 miles from them.
They have been through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. They have lost weight, muscle, hair and - perhaps for fleeting moments - hope. I did.
I sat in the quiet still of my hospital room, in between interruptions by nurses who needed to check my temperature and blood pressure and draw blood, and I cried. I questioned what I had done to deserve this fate. I asked why. And for at least a few moments, I lost hope.
But I found it again in these two men and other athletes, like Mario Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey great, and Olympic wrestler Jeff Blatnik, who both had the same disease I am now fighting. I had read the news stories about Lemieux as he was battling cancer simply because tales of tragedy and triumph are so interesting. Blatnik wrote me a letter of encouragement soon after I started my chemotherapy.
I have found hope in other places, too, in people like Dave McGrath, a friend who survived cancer himself and sent me a note to boost my spirits. I have also saved every get-well card I received, and taped them up throughout my apartment. Whenever I feel depressed or in despair, I read the messages people have written me to help me through the tough times. The stories of the athletes who have triumphed over Hodgkin's disease and the irrepressible concern that so many people have shown for me have been great inspirations.
I am in the homestretch of my chemotherapy. I have survived the nausea, the vomiting, the fatigue and the horrible weight loss that comes with cancer. I have survived the nausea and the vomiting and the hopeless feeling of weakness that comes with each round of chemo.
My body feels almost normal again, since I have gained my weight back. My hair, once past my shoulders, is now long enough to merit use of a brush again. And I have survived the shudders of self-consciousness I felt back when I lost my hair (my father, two brothers and boyfriend helped with that by shaving their heads in solidarity when my hair started to fall out).
I will survive whatever my impending radiation treatment throws at me. And I will continue to cheer, for Lance Armstrong, for Andres Galarraga.
Casey Kane, a former Gazette intern and a native of Holyoke, is a sportswriter at the Anderson Independent-Mail in Anderson, S.C.