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Personally Speaking/Fighting the Good Fight

You know, I don’t allow complaining. I won’t let anybody talk badly about anything. With me, it’s all about being optimistic and positive. That’s always how I’ve lived as a coach. As a team, it’s all about knowing that we’re going to get it done. And I treat my team as my extended family.

When I have recruits come on campus, I tell the parents that I will treat their student-athletes as if they were my daughters. I’ll make sure they’re well taken care of. I will make sure that they are doing well in school. I will also give them snacks of some sort. I will wash their clothes (because I am the equipment manager too!). I will look after them. And that’s how I was living.

And then came the day when I found the lump.

I was like, whoa, what is this? Why is this happening? For once, I just said, why. Then I thought, okay, why not? And, more or less in that moment, I realized the date: It was the day that would have been my own mother’s 100th birthday. She had had her own cancer journey. Somehow, I knew, then and there, that there’d be somebody I could depend on, helping me through all of this. As it turned out, it wasn’t going to be only my mother.

One of the hardest things I had to do when I got the diagnosis was to tell my family. Because I know how they are. We care for each other so much, and we do have this issue where we cry very easily.

So that was the hardest thing. But then the next hardest thing was coming to school and telling the people I worked with – because we’re like family, too.

And then I had to tell the team. All the girls were so supportive. We always talk, as a team, about the theme we should choose for the year. That year, the girls wanted to frame it around my cancer battle. What they came up with was, “Fight together, win together.” They made it plain every day that they weren’t just talking about softball. They helped in any way they could, every day. They brought me to tears a few times.

This all began in the summer of 2020. That year, we didn’t start school until later in fall, and the fall sports were not competing because it was early in the pandemic. So, even though I would have worked everything out – because I always do make things work out – I didn’t have to be conflicted. I could rest, take care of myself, … just put my mind with God to help me heal. I think that really helped a lot. And after that, then I’d get up and go to work, coaching my team. I wanted to show the team that I was strong enough, so I was still doing what I would normally do. I’d got this diagnosis, which was for a triple negative breast cancer, and I was just going to work through it.

You have to fight, I guess. Fight for something that is good. All my teams have been different, and we’ve accomplished a lot of things. We’ve built the program up. We’re always in the mix, we’re always in the top of the conference. As a team, our goal is always to be in the championships and to win one. We don’t ever want to fall short of that. This is a good way to fight.

We all have a right to have our pity parties, sometimes. But my mother had instilled in all eight of us the faith, and the work ethic, and I guess, too, the fight that you have to have every day, to go through life and win your battles. Every day is a battle, especially this day and age. Everybody’s going through something. Keep the hope, keep the faith, that better days are coming.

I think of my mother all the time. I look at her prayer card every morning: “May the Angels have led you into Paradise, may the Martyrs receive thee at thy coming, and take thee to Jerusalem, the Holy City.” I talk to her every day, and I thank her for everything that she’s done. A lot of times now when I feel like I’m losing … I don’t want to say losing my way because I really don’t do that, but when I’m kind of getting off track a little bit, I just say a prayer. I just say a prayer.

Through my treatment and recovery, I had so many people responding to my need – from former players, from players who I coached in high school. Just responding and recognizing the situation and letting me know they’re praying, and loving what I’m doing. Communio is helping each other: caring for one another, and just being there for one another. And I think that was what I was experiencing through my cancer journey. I do feel that we have something so much bigger than ourselves here at St. Norbert, here in this world.

June 30, 2022