Love of the Game

Junior forward forced to give up basketball during cancer battle, becomes women’s team’s go-to player

Following the roster turnover from last season’s NCAA tournament squad, junior forward Micaela Gonzalez has been burdened with the responsibility of filling the void her former teammates left behind.

The added pressure, however, doesn’t faze her — she’s already beaten cancer.

Around Thanksgiving of 2010, Gonzalez noticed a lump right above her collarbone. At the time, she was a 15-year-old sophomore attending McKinney Boyd High School.

At first, Gonzalez and her family believed the lump was a cyst. It was not biopsied until January of 2011.

“We didn’t think (the lump) was a tumor or have any real concerns,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t have any symptoms. Nothing was wrong with me. On the outside, I was perfectly normal.”

Following the biopsy, the lump proved to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Gonzalez’s initial reaction was a slight chuckle.

“I thought, ‘Just my luck,’” she said. “I was never really scared. I never thought I was going to die. My (next) reaction was, ‘OK, what’s next? What do we do now? Where do we go from here?’”

The eldest of two siblings, Gonzalez said the support she received throughout her treatment was immense.

“We had family, friends and teammates that would cook us dinner just so my mom wouldn’t have to worry about it,” she said. “My friends would help tutor me with my school work.”

Gonzalez received chemotherapy every two weeks for three months. She took a small break, then received radiation for a week straight. Following that week, she continued her normal chemotherapy dosage for the next three months.

“The best way I can describe getting chemo is like getting injected with the flu every two weeks,” Gonzalez said. “My brother described me as being depressed. I wasn’t, but I would come home after treatment and just lay in bed for three days straight. I couldn’t really function. I was too sick to do anything.”

Because Gonzalez needed to receive around-the-clock treatment, attending school like a normal sophomore was next to impossible. To remedy the situation and avoid falling behind in her curriculum, Gonzalez transitioned to an all-online format.

Gonzalez was not able to take a full course load, but the three classes she was enrolled in were not something to take lightly. However, the prospect of not graduating on time with all her friends was not an option. She was able to complete the minimum number of credits needed to graduate.

Since Gonzalez had a surgically implanted metaport on her chest where she received her chemo, she was forced to relinquish the game she grew up loving to play. She said having the game of basketball ripped away from her like that was one of the hardest things she’s had to endure.

In July of 2011, Gonzalez was given the news that she was finally in remission. She said she felt genuine happiness.

Now Gonzalez, a 5-foot-11 forward, is the go-to player for the women’s basketball team. Head coach Polly Thomason said it’s a responsibility Gonzalez has taken head on.

“Last year, she really had the luxury of being in the shadow of our seniors and not really having a lot of pressure on her,” Thomason said. “Now we’re really relying on her to be the best she can be.”

Gonzalez is currently averaging 11.5 points per game and grabbing 8.3 rebounds a night — both team highs. She said she has done her best to fill the void the seniors left behind.

“It’s definitely not easy,” she said. “I’m doing the best I can. I don’t mind the pressure or the responsibility.”

Aside from boasting career high averages, Thomason said the biggest area she has seen Gonzalez grow in is in her leadership ability.

“She has to do a lot for us,” she said. “She has to score and play really strong defense. It’s been a complete 180 for her as far as what her role has been. She’s leading our team on and off the court.”

Having basketball taken away from her has made Gonzalez appreciate the game that much more — and it’s something she’ll never forget.

“It was a huge part of my motivation,” she said. “My junior season, the year after all my treatment was finished, was by far my best year of basketball in high school just because I wanted it more than I ever wanted it before.”

Gonzalez is now four years in remission. Once she reaches the five-year plateau in July of 2016, she will officially be considered cured.

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