Cancer not stopping SUA volleyball player in her senior season

Cancer not stopping SUA volleyball player in her senior season
Alex Richards (Source: WTOL)
Alex Richards (Source: WTOL)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Coming into the 2016 season the St. Ursula volleyball team has the same goals as last year. Winning championships.

One of the six seniors returning to the Arrows is three-year starter Alex Richards.

Like most high school seniors, Richards was getting ready to make this the best year yet.

As she focused on the usual, college decisions, senior pictures and her last high school volleyball season, Richards was thrown for an unexpected loop just weeks before volleyball tryouts.

"Around July 14th I was packing to go play for USA volleyball. I was 12 hours away from getting on a flight and I was going by myself, and as I was packing my mom was like, 'Hey what's that big lump in your neck?'" said Richards.

Richards says she didn't even notice the tennis-ball size lump on her neck until her mom pointed it out.

"It was something random, and I just happened to look at her neck. It was swollen and so I touched it and it felt firm to me and it scared me so badly, and I said, I think Alex has cancer," said Roxanne Richards, Alex's mom.

About two weeks later Alex got her official diagnosis, Hodgkin's lymphoma stage 2 A.

She found it she had two tumors, the one on her neck and one above her heart.

"Of course, nobody sees it coming ever. I just felt like, especially since I was so young, it just completely took me off guard," said Alex.

While Alex has a good outlook with a 90-95 percent survival rate, the last few weeks haven't been easy between the surgeries and the balancing act between continuous chemo treatments and medications and her schooling, practices and games.

Life as she once knew it has completely changed.

"Once you're so wrapped up in the cancer, it becomes part of your daily life. We have all her medications lined up on the counter, and they change depending on what cycle of the chemo she's in," said Roxanne.

But one of the biggest struggles wasn't the diagnosis.

"So to really get the idea that you have cancer, and the treatment you need is going to be horrible, and the things that you love the most are no longer available to you and this is your last chance because you're a senior. So for a lot of times that's the end," said Roxanne.

The idea of not playing a sport she loves, coupled with losing her hair in a week because of the treatments, was a hard pill to swallow. But instead of letting it stop her senior season, Alex just changed her focus.

"My focus going into this season was just to being able to keep doing what I love. And I love volleyball, I have a great team to support me. Volleyball's gotten a lot harder since the diagnosis. Before it was more mental, watching the hitters and the blockers, what's coming next, now it's just, okay, I have to catch my breath before this point ends. So my focus has shifted to staying more physically into the game," said Alex.

While Roxanne says she couldn't be prouder of her daughter, she admits it can be nerve-wracking watching her daughter on the court.

"It breaks my heart because I don't like to watch her struggle, but she's not going to stop. She's definitely not going to stop," said Roxanne. It hurts me to see her physically in pain, but I'm still proud that she's going through it."

For a first year coach, it's not a typical player issue to handle, but Sydney Antonio says she couldn't be happier to have Alex on her roster.

"I learn from Alex every day. My goal in life is to get better at something every day and she makes me be a better person, a better coach. I can't talk about her without tearing up a little bit. I'm just proud of her, and so glad she's a part of this team," said Antonio.

For the Richards, it's an outlet to help get them through this trying time.

"Entire focus is on the cancer, so it's nice to be on the court doing a routine that has nothing to do with cancer," said Roxanne.

For Alex, the reason may be cliche, but what keeps her going is simple.

"The love of the game."

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