AUSTEN'S STORY 1986-2012
Following is Austen's story, written by Austen.
I’ve spent my life playing soccer. I always figured if I died an untimely death it would be because of my rather extensive collection of concussions.
Soccer takes a toll on your body. If only you saw beneath my jersey, you’d know what I’m talking about. I’ve got horrific scars on both arms and discolored marks up and down my legs. I’ve learned how to take out my own stitches and can stay in an ice bath for 35 minutes before my lips turn blue. But Cancer was nothing like anything I had ever experienced and I’ve got the scars to prove it. My forearms are littered with track marks from countless IVs and blood tests. There’s a puckered wound in my lower back where they’ve drilled in my hip to get bone marrow samples, but the real prize is an 8 inch scar that runs down my stomach from my chest bone to my pelvis that’s a leftover from an exploratory surgery in which they removed a football-sized tumor from my abdomen.
Cancer has brought me to my knees. It has made me feel worse than I could ever imagine and has allowed me to see more beauty, truth, and triumph in a single day than many people experience in a lifetime. The question with chemo is what will the chemo kill first: the Cancer, or me? My exciting life has quickly become a nauseating routine of IV drips and doctors appointments. The sickness has been in the details, in the gruesome effects of the treatment. Cancer is a blurred sense of illness but chemo is an endless sequence of horrors until you begin to think that the cure is as bad or worse than the disease.
Chemo has a cumulative effect; I have undergone six treatments in the span of three months and with each phase, toxins accumulate in my body. The first treatment wasn’t so bad. By the end of the second I felt pretty sick and always tired. By the fourth cycle I was on my hands and knees fighting nausea and crippling bone aches. Chemo doesn’t just kill Cancer, it kills healthy cells too.
It has attacked, the linings of my throat, my stomach, my muscles, my teeth and has left me open to infection. My gums bleed. I get sores in my mouth and of course I lost my appetite. On the really bad days I lie on my side in bed wrapped in blankets, fighting a horrific rolling in my stomach and the debilitating pain in my bones. I don’t think I have fully admitted the effect chemotherapy has had on my body. I came into my fight against Cancer very fit and confident and I can start to see with each treatment I’m being drained and until a mere flight of stairs made me collapse, I have had no idea how incapacitated I have become.
The chemo has left me so foggy that my memory barely recalls what I did an hour ago. However, what I do know is at my sickest, I have begun to beat the thing. I have opened a gap in the field and I will be cured. I have begun to think of my recovery like a soccer match. I was getting daily feedback from my team of doctors and I wanted to destroy Cancer just as I had against countless opponents on the soccer field. I prepare myself for treatments just as I did against UNC. I put my hospital gown on as if it said Miami on the front and I walk the halls of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance just as I had imagined I would walk out for the NCAA championships. I brag "Cancer picked the wrong girl when it decided to take me on." The illness had invaded my body and tried to destroy everything I have worked so hard for, so now it's personal. I am no longer a victim; I have turned the tables on cancer and I am now on the attack.
Cancer is a funny thing. Good, strong people get Cancer. They do all the right things to beat it and they still die. That is the pressing truth that you learn when you're sick. People die. And after you learn it, all other matters just seem insignificant. I don’t know why I’m still alive. I can only guess. I have a tough character and my sport has taught me how to compete against long odds and enormous obstacles.
Everyone’s favorite question seems to be, "how has Cancer changed you?" The real question isn’t how it changed me but how hasn’t it? I left my house on May 26, 2008 as one person and on August 16 I will return another. I was one of the best goal keepers in the United States, I had an incredible boyfriend, a brand new car, and an exciting future as a professional athlete. But when I return I will be a different person. The truth is that Cancer is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I don’t know why I got the illness but it has done amazing things for me and I wouldn’t want to walk away from it.
People die. That truth is so daunting that at times I can’t bear to contemplate it. But there is another truth too. People live. It's an equally and opposing truth. People live in the most extraordinary ways.