Sports helped Stoll in her fight against lymphoma
It isn't a stretch to say that Title IX helped save Stephanie Stoll's life.
Seattle Times staff columnist
BELLEVUE — The quarter-sized lump just under Stephanie Stoll's right ear was insistent. This wasn't something she could play through. It was demanding her immediate attention. It was frightening. It was real.
Looking for a quick answer, Stoll turned on her computer. The Internet is the worst place to go, but it usually is the first place we all go to scout injuries and diseases.
Stoll Googled phrases like "enlarged lymph nodes" over and over again. There was that word — "cancer."
This was October. The University of Tennessee's volleyball team was having its best season, on the way to winning the Southeastern Conference championship. And Stoll, a redshirt freshman from Issaquah High School, was playing the best ball of her life.
"I was definitely stepping up my game," she said recently.
But in only a week, Stoll's life was flipped from the best of times to the worst. She underwent a battery of tests, a biopsy and had surgery in Knoxville. She was told she had Burkitt's lymphoma.
She left school, returned to the Northwest and began almost five months of intense chemotherapy.
Life had intruded on her storybook season.
"It was all very scary," she said.
But Stoll was young and fit. She was an athlete and she approached her therapy with an athlete's resolve — courageously and methodically, listening and following the instructions of her doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington Medical Center the same way she followed her coaches.
"The first round of chemo, I was like, 'That's all there is to this? This isn't too bad,' " she said before a workout last month. "And then it became a roller-coaster ride. The first time you get hit, it just seems like every time after that, your highs just aren't as high as they were before."
Her treatment required Stoll be in the hospital for five days every three weeks. Her mother Janet slept in a cot next to Stephanie's bed. Stoll received eight cycles of chemotherapy.
Several times after treatment she developed high fevers and had to return to the hospital. She said her longest stay was "11 or 12 days."
During those difficult months, Stoll kept thinking that this wasn't her. She wasn't the kind of person who got sick. She was a college athlete, playing a demanding sport. She was indomitable.
"It was hard," she said, "because I'm always telling myself, 'I've got to go work out. I've got to go to the gym.' But with chemo, I had that mentality that I didn't want to do those things. I've never had that feeling before."
On this 40th anniversary of Title IX, the legislation that gave women an equal chance to compete in athletics, it is important to think about Stephanie Stoll and how that legislation impacted her life.
It isn't a stretch to say that Title IX helped save her life. Without Title IX, there wouldn't have been a volleyball team or a college scholarship. She probably wouldn't have had the skill set to fight through her energy-sapping chemo treatments.
Title IX gave her a place to develop her competitiveness. It gave her a fighter's mentality. It taught her the value of fitness and the importance of goal setting. It gave structure and discipline to her life.
For Stoll, cancer became another opponent, like Alabama or Vanderbilt.
"At Tennessee I was at the peak of being in shape," she said. "I had so much muscle. I'd look at myself in the mirror and think, 'Wow, I've never looked like this before.' That's the best feeling in the world. But being an athlete gave me the mentality to think that this is just another obstacle for me to defeat."
Her doctor told her he had confidence that she would beat the disease. For Stoll, it was like hearing her coach, Rob Patrick, telling her he had so much belief that he was starting her against Louisiana State.
During her treatment, Stoll stayed in touch with her team. She Skyped with her teammates, who wore lime green ribbons (the color that signifies the fight against lymphoma) in their hair during games. Stoll talked often with Patrick. And she watched Tennessee's matches on her computer. She never felt apart from the team.
At the beginning of the treatments, Stoll set a goal, telling her mother she would return to Knoxville on May 31 for summer training. In late April, she began working out with Daniel Jahn at Maximum Sports Conditioning in Bellevue.
She hit her goal, returned to school and to training in early June.
"That goal was really important to me," she said.
The chemo robbed Stoll of her long, blonde hair that she calls "my pride and joy." And there is a 3-inch scar on the right side of her neck from the surgery.
But already she looks prepared for another conference run. Slowly, the hair is growing back and her conditioning is improving dramatically. She wears lime green nail polish to remind her of the battle she won.
Opening day and the Lady Vol Classic loom a little more than two months away.
"I keep thinking about that," Stoll said. "At first I was thinking, 'What am I going to do with my hair? What am I going to wear on my head?' But now it's just more like I'm excited to get back out there in front of our fans. Our court is awesome."
Title IX gave her these games to anticipate. Athletics helped strengthen her resolve for this fight. Stephanie Stoll is a college volleyball player, and the game helped save her life.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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