Cancer no match for Country Day volleyball player

November 11, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Country Day sophomore Kate Launey still flashes a huge smile when she talks about the Cajuns’ Sept. 14 match against Dominican.

It was a typical early season match between two quality programs, and the Cajuns won in four sets. Launey recorded 10 digs and two aces, but it was more than that.

Launey was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in her knee earlier this year. After six rounds of chemotherapy, she received a clean bill of health. That match was her first time back on the court.

“It was hard getting back,” she said. “I’m not the same player I was a couple of months ago. I love this sport, so to just play it again, it meant the world to me. I had been on the sidelines for like a month then, and it’s tough being on the sidelines and just watching. Making an impact was really big for me.”

Her impact is impressive on and off the court. Launey finished the regular season with 195 digs and 48 aces and worked her way back into a starting role for Division V’s top-seeded team.

“Physically, it took a while for her to get back into it,” Country Day assistant coach and Kate’s mother, Dana Launey said. “I think she’s still a step behind, but she’s getting better each match. It’s hard to say this about my own kid, but she has been this kind of gutsy player since forever. Her mentality is the same. She’s been around athletics her whole life, and she’s just a feisty, go-for-it player. She has not lost her edge.”

Just a sore knee

Coming from an athletic family, aches and pains are nothing new, so when she started to have pain in her knee in August 2016, it wasn’t alarming. The standard remedy of ice and ibuprofen would help, but the pain would linger and increase from time to time.

Still, Kate contributed to the Cajuns’ 2016 volleyball state championship and went on to play on the state runner-up girls soccer team. But the pain didn’t go away.

The Monday after Easter, Kate learned that what everyone thought was a bone infection was actually lymphoma.

“It was truly a shock when they said it was lymphoma,” Dana said. “Then, we had to wait and see if she had the good cancer. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the curable one. Our hopes and prayers were with that, and we were lucky that it was.”

Kate said: “I don’t even know how to describe it. I see other people going through these tough times, so to actually go through it myself, it was really hard. I made sure that I didn’t let it get me down. I saw how it was hurting my parents a lot, so I didn’t want them to see me upset.”

Outpouring of support

The diagnosis came as a shock to the entire Country Day community.

“When I first found out, I was really upset,” Kate’s teammate and fellow sophomore Alex Smith said. “I was crying. I went to my mom and asked her if it was true. The whole team was really upset, but everyone did little stuff for her. Personally, I baked every day. Every day I came with a new baked good. Everyone was just trying to keep her spirits up.”

That helped more than anyone could have imagined.

It was a standardized treatment — two days of chemotherapy every three weeks. The procedures started the first week of April and ended six rounds later during the second week of classes. It was what happened in between that touched Kate’s heart.

Family members took turns visiting her during chemo treatments. Teammates kept her in their thoughts, prayers and baked goods. On the last day of school, the boys in the freshman class shaved their heads in support of her new hairstyle.

“It meant so much to know that everyone was behind me the whole way through,” Kate said. “Knowing that so many people were supporting me, that was what kept me going. It wasn’t even about me anymore. I was getting through this and keeping a positive attitude for them, so they knew that I was okay.”

Dana said: “She never complained not once. She never asked why is this happening to me. She took it on her shoulders and said let’s go do this.”

There are still five years of follow-up visits to ensure that the cancer is gone, but all the recent scans show that to be the case.

Back on the court

Early on during those treatments, Kate wasn’t always sure she would make it back on the court, but that quickly changed.

“All I wanted from her was to have the courage to put herself back out there knowing that she wasn’t going to be where she could be at this point,” Dana said. “In her mind, once she knew that she could do this, her mind was focused on just getting out there as fast as she could.”

It was just two days after her chemo port was removed that the scrappy defensive player hit the hardwood again. She got a standing ovation from the crowd as she subbed in.

“It was really important for me to get back on this team,” Kate said. “I’ve been on this team for three years now. This team means a lot to me, so to be with them and feel that camaraderie that we have with each other, that was all I could think about.”

Kate plans to play soccer again this season after the volleyball state tournament that began Thursday, in which the Cajuns are the defending state champions and the top-seeded team.

Not after what Kate and the entire team has endured since April. Kate said if this experience has taught her one thing, it’s that a positive attitude can go a long way.

“I really had to push myself to get to the point that I’m at now,” she said. “You have to really know what you want and go after it. It has to be total focus on that goal. I was really tough on myself, but I had to give myself some leeway at some points. I had to realize what I needed to do to help myself and also be able to push myself. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now than playing with my teammates every day.”


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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