By Megan Anderson
The transition into college often bears new challenges that high school gives little preparation for. No one could ever be prepared for what Stephanie Garcia ’18 had to experience her freshman year. Her life was forever changed on her first day of classes, when she received a call breaking the news that she had thyroid cancer. It began when she felt a little under the weather during New Student Orientation; before her parents left, they decided to take her to the doctor. During her checkup, the doctor noticed that her thyroid was enlarged and promptly ordered tests and a biopsy. There was only a 5 percent chance the results would come back as malignant and, unfortunately, they did.
Garcia began her battle with cancer by having to tell her new teammates, coaches and family members that she had to withdraw from her first semester of college. She packed up her freshly assembled dorm room and headed to the hospital for surgery a week later. The post-operation appointment ran smoothly and Garcia and her family headed back home for recovery and isolated radiation. After a three-month battle, Garcia was finally declared cancer free.
Although she was free of cancer, Garcia was not able to rid herself of the difficulties that ensued. Her leave of absence over the semester rendered her behind on both classes and necessary adjustments to college life.
“It was so difficult having to miss my first semester of college,” Garcia said. “I even considered not coming back, but knew that this was just a small bump in the road and that I was meant to be at Lewis & Clark. I came back for my spring semester. I struggled getting the whole ‘college thing’ down. Everyone else figured it out in the fall and I was still trying to transition from high school to college. But I managed. I’ve taken courses every summer and have overloaded on credits every semester in order to graduate on time.”
Not only has she taken extra classes during the school year and the summer to keep up with her academic requirements, Garcia has also put in extra time on and off the softball field.
Head coach of the LC softball team Shawna Cyrus had some ideas in store to recognize Garcia and her hard work. On March 16, 2018, Cyrus announced to the team after practice that their first home game of the season would be dedicated to Garcia and thyroid cancer awareness. While the team was in California for preseason games, Cyrus created the game plan to surprise Garcia. She contacted Garcia’s family and got the ball rolling.
“I kind of just picked our first home game and went from there,” Cyrus said. “I started texting her parents to see if they would like to come and keep it a secret, and got them shirts made as well. I know that Steph’s health and the scare she went through was a really tough time in her life, and at a crucial time for her. Knowing that and how important (awareness) is to her made me want to recognize her and help support her cause. I knew she would love something like this and a secret would be perfect.”
Garcia’s last season-opening home game was not just for her, however, since the coaches had shirts made for the entire team and for Garcia’s parents. The shirts were pink with purple and teal, the colors of the thyroid cancer awareness ribbon.
Garcia found out about the awareness game less than a day beforehand, so the first thing she did was contact her parents, who, of course, already knew the plan. When she called her parents right after this discovery, they had to pretend that they were not in an Uber on the way to the airport. At first, it was hard for Garcia to not have her parents there to support her on her special day. Garcia’s mom, Kristin, was more than excited to surprise her daughter.
“We were in awe that she called us since we wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Mrs. Garcia said. “As soon as we came up with a date we booked flights. We knew ahead that it would be hard to keep this surprise for a month. I wanted so badly to see her Friday night, but the surprise was Saturday. She had no idea and we treasured that moment.”
Although cancer was an obstacle for Garcia, she learned from the experience and looks forward to creating more awareness for thyroid cancer. The softball team helped raise awareness through their games dedicated to Garcia, and Garcia feels grateful for the support she was given.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today if I didn’t have the continuous love and support from my friends and family,” Garcia said. “I try not to take anything for granted, because I know that there are people fighting for their lives and giving all their strength in order to beat cancer.”