The summer before my sophomore year of college, I took my dad to his annual colonoscopy.
As he was waking up from under his anesthesia, the nurses called me back to see him, where he was in a room with other patients waking up from their procedures. My mom had warned me that morning that his Parkinson’s disease would make him take longer to wake up.
I was joking with him about how groggy he was when the doctor came in. The doctor sat me down and said, “It doesn’t look good. It’s probably cancer. Once your dad is more awake, I want to meet with both of you in my office,” but all I heard was “CANCER.”
I watched as it took three of my friends’ parents, one of my high school classmates, and other cousins and aunts. I was numb. That day we scheduled scans for the next week and more doctor appointments.
The doctor said he wanted to go ahead and do everything they could as soon as possible, so we did. Dad had scans done that confirmed he did indeed have colon cancer, and it had already spread to his liver. Doctors removed the cancerous part of his colon. Then he went through countless rounds of chemo to decrease the size of the cancerous spots on his liver so the cancerous part of his liver could be removed with more surgery.
That summer, my family became much closer. I had always been a daddy’s girl, but while I was in high school, we argued a lot. After his cancer diagnosis, we definitely grew closer again. I enjoyed being a part of my dad’s recovery: spending the nights with him at the hospital and going to his chemo appointments.
My dad completed more chemotherapy treatments, just in time so that he could be finished for our trip to Daytona Beach. But as soon as we returned home, the doctor told us that Dad’s cancer wasn’t gone. There were still some spots on his liver, so he went through more rounds of chemo and some radiation.
The cancerous spots decreased in size but haven’t completely gone away yet. He just finished his third round of treatments three years after his cancer diagnosis. After watching him endure so many rounds of chemo and radiation, eventually I started to feel a little frustrated.
Why couldn’t I have been one of those people whose family was totally unaffected by cancer?
This fall, my grandfather was also diagnosed with colon cancer. He took chemo pills and went through radiation.
My family thought that since we had already gone through so much chemo and radiation with my dad, we would know what to expect with my grandfather’s treatments. However, instead of really helping, his chemo and radiation treatments just seemed to hurt him more.
After numerous hospitalizations and a COPD diagnosis, Hospice moved my grandfather into my parents’ home. Over spring break, I got to come home and spend lots of time with him. During that week, he really perked up and stood up for the first time in almost two months.
My parents started to talk about the possibility of taking him out of Hospice because it really looked like he was going to get better. I left home the last Sunday of spring break and kissed my grandfather goodbye and he told me to “look out for the car behind the car in front of you” like he always did.
I was planning on coming back home just two weeks later to celebrate Easter with my family, so I didn’t think much of our goodbye that day. Just three days later, my grandfather passed away.
My sophomore year, I joined UGA Relay For Life soon after my dad’s first cancer diagnosis. Relay gave me a way to help in his fight against cancer. As an executive board member of Relay this year, I have become friends with so many others whose lives have been affected by this terrible disease. Many have lost family members to cancer and yet continue to fight for a future without cancer.
For a long time, I felt helpless against cancer. I can’t help but think that if my grandfather had just lived two weeks longer, I could have said a real goodbye to him. I Relay for that two weeks.
I Relay so that one day some girl can have two more weeks with her grandfather because I know how much that time would mean to me.
1 in 4 college athletes suffer from depression. I am that one.
From a young age, I’ve always lived my life trying to please the people around me, trying to do the right thing, and trying to live that “perfect” life. I’ve always made good grades, I played 3 sports in high school, I went to church every Sunday, and I was on track to graduating college ahead of time. So it might be shocking to some people that I am that 1 athlete that suffers from depression.
You know the nervous feeling you get when you’re about to play in the big game, take the big test, or even make a big decision? What about the lump you get in your throat that makes you feel like you can’t breathe right before the tears start to fall. It’s the empty feeling or confusion that makes it so hard to deal with. It’s the sadness that overcomes you when you know you have to get out of the bed to just try to make it through a day that seems like it will never end.
It’s the feeling of loneliness when you’re sitting by yourself and your thoughts consume you. It’s even the feeling of anger that overtakes you and you don’t understand why it has to be you.
A feeling of hopelessness when you wonder why you even try because nothing good can come out of trying anymore. It’s the feeling of being afraid that you have to finally speak up and find the help that you desperately need.
The weight of embarrassment you carry when in the back of your mind you know that not everyone will understand what’s going on when you try your hardest to explain it to them.
Confusion because you don’t even know what’s wrong. It’s the feeling of the little white pills swirling around in the bottle as you decide if it’s really worth it. “What will my family do? What if my roommate finds me? How will my boyfriend feel? Will it be a cop out? Will I go straight to hell? Do I leave a note?”
All these feelings that make me that one college athlete that suffers from anxiety and depression.
I knew that something was wrong when it became a big deal to get out of the bed. This became difficult because I knew that if I got up and left the house, I would be faced with responsibilities that I didn’t think I could handle.
When I would finally muster up the courage to leave, the house I would get a nervous and sad feeling that would overtake me, but I had no idea why I was feeling that way. I would be around so many people, but feel so alone.
I would cry, but nothing was wrong. I had a constant nervous feeling, about what, I had no idea. It was hard to smile and even harder to laugh and I knew that something was really wrong. My days were full of classes, workouts, tutors, and homework; but the depression and anxiety always found a way to work itself into my day.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
I tried to hide these terrible and confusing feelings from everyone that I could, but what was going on inside of me began to show up on the outside. I wasn’t myself anymore. I couldn’t eat. I struggled to sleep. My grades were slipping. I was missing class and suicidal thoughts started to fill my head.
I couldn’t figure out what I did to deserve what I was going through. I had gotten to the point to where I was just tired of being tired. I was praying and it seemed like God wasn’t even listening.
I tried to remind myself that everything was going to be okay and that I was going to come out of this difficult situation that I was in a bigger and better person than I was, but I didn’t really believe the things that I was telling myself. When I began to have suicidal thoughts I knew that someone needed to know that I was going through so I began to throw hints about what was going on to my boyfriend.
I was praying that he would have the answer to what would make me feel better through this tough time. He finally convinced me to open up to my parents about the things that I was really going through.
I wasn’t sure how I could explain to my parents that I was going through so much without them knowing that anything was going on. I didn’t want them to feel like they weren’t doing an amazing job as parents because they were doing everything and more to make sure that I was well taken care of even while I was in school.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation face to face with my parents so I decided that I would send a text message to my mom to give her an idea of what was really going on behind all the I’m doing great text messages that I was sending every day.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
I decided that I needed the help of a professional and soon after, I began seeing a physiologist who has been such a major part of my recovery.
I decided that I would take a break from basketball to focus on my personal and mental health and just getting better as a whole. I spent time at home surrounded by amazing people like my family, my boyfriend, and my best friend, Makayla.
It made a huge difference. I was surrounded by so many prayers, and a lot of love, and I began to notice a change in my happiness. This time at home was great, but also hard. I was no longer worrying about school, basketball, and everything else that came with college, but my main focus was on having to face what was really going on in my life.
I’ve had some very amazing people that have stuck by my side through everything that has been going on and I’m so thankful for that. My family has understood me on my good days and my not so good days.
My boyfriend has stuck it out through the good, the bad, and the real ugly. My roommate, Victoria, has been more of a blessing than she will ever know. And lastly my amazing friend, Makayla, has been there through everything and she has listened to even the smallest complaints from over 300 miles away. Through everything that has been going on, God has still been doing some amazing things in my life and I am nothing but blessed, for this journey I know that better days are coming.
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
Someday I will.
As most people will tell you, high school is not easy.
I went to a small, all-girls, private school in Greenwich, CT, which was my own personal version of hell. I was out of place in so many ways when I started 9th grade. These girls bought backpacks worth hundreds of dollars, while I bought mine for $20 at Target.
They were all so beautiful. The majority looked like Barbie dolls: tall with straight, silky hair, skinny and radiating with confidence. Meanwhile, I was tiny with thin, frizzy hair, quiet, and meek. Keep in mind, there were a few special butterflies like myself, but I stand by the fact that most girls were outwardly flawless.
However, when you’re trying to discover your identity, it doesn’t help when you’re surrounded by women who show you everything that you are not. My meager confidence dwindled, and I started to keep my head down. I tried to be friends with some of the kinder girls, and that worked out for a while.
I got particularly close to one girl, Anna, and we became best friends. She had severe depression and anxiety and needed me there to help her and be there for her; a role that I was more than happy to take on.
When Anna’s troubles got too much for her in 12th grade, she decided to transfer to a high school in a different state.
I thought that some of the other girls we would hang out with might reach out to me, given how devastated I was by Anna leaving. But instead, they took her transfer as an opportunity to stop hanging out with me once and for all. As it turns out, they only tolerated me because they had been friends with Anna many years before I arrived.
I spent the remainder of my senior year alone, surrounded by a sea of girls who acted like I was invisible. By the time graduation came about, I was beyond relieved to never have to step foot in those halls again.
I left immediately after graduation to find work at a beach town in Long Island three hours away so I would not have to run into anyone I knew. I left high school with a mistrust of females my age that reached down to my core.
I hated how the girls in high school made me feel, and that hatred generalized itself to include anyone who reminded me of them. My mother, who had always been an amazing supporter for me, decided that I needed to overcome my fear of women before entering college, and I think a part of me agreed with her.
As a graduation present, she wanted to sign us up for a surf trip in Nicaragua. The catch? It was ONLY girls.
The idea of spending a week with only women terrified me. After much debate, I decided that I could not miss out on an opportunity to surf in a country on my bucket list, and I really was hoping that my least favorite gender would redeem themselves.
The day my mom and I arrived at the surf camp, we were greeted by the women who ran the camp, who were (to my delight!) two beautiful, tall blonde women, just a few years older than me. I couldn’t swallow my disdain.
We met the other women in the program: another mother-daughter pair and the other female surf instructors. The instructors explained to us that each day, we would go to a beach and the instructors would take us into the ocean and coach us to improve.
Being already proficient at surfing, I assumed that I could just go out into the water and surf alone and would not have to interact with the others. With that thought in mind, I slept peacefully that night.
As the week went on, I found that all of the women in the program were individually inspiring. The two blonde women, Noelani and Lauren, were encouraging and supportive. They helped me improve my surfing, and I found myself wanting to spend time with them.
As it turns out, Noelani didn’t like the people she went to college with and did not enjoy her experience there. She showed me that it was okay that I didn’t fit in during high school and made me realize that there was much more to come.
One of my sister’s friends was killed in a boating accident. My mom and I were shocked and devastated. Noelani, originally from Hawaii, showed us how to make leis out of flowers to celebrate her life rather than mourn her death. Together, we released the leis into the ocean and prayed for her soul.
Surfing was something that was always extremely important to me, but until this trip, my mom had never stood up on a surfboard. Noelani and Lauren brought my mom and I closer as they helped her reach her goal. When my mom first stood up on the board, I was glowing with pride and felt like my mom was proud of me.
All of the mother-daughter pairs at the surf camp had different qualities. The mother, Shelly, seemed hard and strict at first, but throughout the experience she softened.
The daughter, Maya, was about 12 years old and loved to read. She was tiny with short dark hair, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of myself when I was her age. She would tell me about her stories, and I would tell her about mine. I could tell how much she looked up to me.
On the final day of the trip, Noelani asked me if I had reached the goal I set for myself on the first day: to master dropping in on steep waves. While I did reach this goal, I admitted to myself and Noelani that I had also reached a different goal: to love myself for who I was.
My friendships with these women made me realize that my problem wasn’t with women, it was with myself. People are going to act how they are going to act, and there is nothing I can do about that. What I can do is not let others dictate my self confidence.
It has been a year and a half since that surf trip, and ever since then, I remember that I choose my own worth. I choose what impact I am going to make. I choose.