Behind the Whistle: Preparing for the Game of Life

PHOTO COURTESY OF PATTY MCCABE

From left to right: Morgayne Rix, Marguerite Rix, Mikaela Rix.


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Mikaela Rix is a 2015 graduate of Boston College.

May 20, 2019. Almost four years to the day of my graduation from Boston College, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductile Breast Cancer at the age of 26. When Liz Robertshaw, my former Team USA coach, reached out to me to see if I wanted to share my story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I was honored. I immediately called my sister, Morgayne, (a former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player) to ask her how to possibly share my cancer journey with a “lacrosse analogy.” After deliberating back and forth, I realized that being a former college lacrosse player had prepared me for the “Game of Life.”

On the day I was diagnosed, the first call I made was to family to share the news. The second I hung up with my family, I immediately got on the phone with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) to see how soon I could get in for an appointment. I had my scouting report hat on and was ready to analyze the key players, come up with a game plan and figure out a way to win. The opponent this time wasn’t the typical ACC rival I had become accustomed to during my time on the lacrosse field. It was a disease that affects one in eight women in their lifetime with the average age of diagnosis at 65 years old.

I met with my surgeon, Dr. Mary Gemignani at MSK, where I underwent a series of tests. After an ultrasound, additional biopsy, mammogram, MRI and genetic testing, we analyzed our scouting report and came up with a game plan on how we would beat my cancer. The starting lineup was set.

I would have a lumpectomy and radiation because this course of treatment has the same cure rate when paired with hormone therapy as a single or double mastectomy. On July 1, I had my lumpectomy. After a few weeks of rest and recovery, we met with my medical oncologist, Dr. Shari Goldfarb at MSK, to figure out what the second half of treatment would be. We circled up in the locker room (her office) and determined the best defensive strategy would be eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 20 radiation treatments and then hormone therapy once that all finished for 5-10 years.

The eight months of my cancer battle were long and isolating. The world continued to go on around me. People got engaged, married, had babies, got promoted, had fun, all while I sat on the sideline of my life. However, I knew I wasn’t riding the bench alone. My family, friends and co-workers rallied and cheered me on as I battled through the treatments. They dropped off meals (and chocolate chip cookies), sent care packages and even came and sat with me through the 5-hour long chemo sessions. They texted and called to check in and get an update on what I was bingeing on Netflix or what book I was reading. They helped me keep my mindset positive, remain focused on the task at hand and prepared for whatever obstacle was next.

During my treatment process, my sister Marguerite hosted a small fundraiser to help raise money for breast cancer research to support the incredible doctors, nurses and hospitals; something I did for her when she was facing her own ovarian cancer battle the year prior. These efforts gradually turned into something bigger than we could have imagined. Together, with the help of our sister Morgayne, we founded our non-profit, For All Who Fight.

Through our non-profit, we continue our fight against cancer by raising funds and spreading awareness for the education and early detection for breast and ovarian cancers. Through our efforts, we have raised over $250,000 for our cause. Although my cancer battle is over, I know that there are others who are out there that are facing a similar fight. We hope that by sharing our story, we can help other fighters and build a community so that no one goes through their battle alone.

As I moved from the sideline back into the starting lineup of my life, I want to share with you a few key takeaways from my time on the bench:







Be aware of your body.

No one knows you as well as you … if you aren’t feeling quite yourself or something seems different, go to the doctor and get it checked out. The worst-case scenario is something is wrong, and you can tackle it early. Modern medicine is amazing, and there are ready and willing professionals whose job it is to help you with anything you are going through. Do a self-assessment and be aware of your body.

It’s OK, to be NOT OK.

Some days you feel good, some days you don’t. I remember after my sixth chemo treatment sitting in the chair, crying, because everything just sucked. Nonetheless, I was back there two weeks later for treatment No. 7 and my bonus treatment No. 8 after that. We are human, and everyone has their moments — take the time to be sad, happy, tired, energized. Whatever you are feeling is normal. Just remember, it is OK to be NOT OK.

Sometimes you have to say NO.

After treatment and post quarantine, I found myself saying YES to everything. I constantly had plans, was exhausted, and had no time to relax. My boyfriend Chris said to me one day, “You do know you can say no?” and to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it! I was so excited to go out, see people and have plans, I had not thought about if I wanted to do these activities. Sometimes you have to say NO and be selfish with your time, as it is a non-renewable resource. Do what you need to do to take care of your physical AND mental health.

Find your people.

Tackling cancer/illness is a difficult undertaking, and it takes a village to get through it. Find the person(s) who will be there for you and support you in what you need. Your mental energy during treatment should be focused on yourself and your healing. Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you up and inspire you to keep going in your fight.

Put your face in the sun and smile.

Before practice, my college coach, Acacia Walker-Weinstein, used to make us do visualization and meditation, and I found myself turning to this constantly when I was going through treatment. It is amazing how sunshine and just making yourself smile can lift your mood — so when you can, put your face in the sun and smile.

Enjoy the ride.

You only get one life. Do what makes you happy.

Editor’s Note: You can connect with Mikaela and the All Who Fight team via email: info@forallwhofight.org or on Social Media: @forallwhofight and Faceboo

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