March 8, 2002

Mind over Matter

March 8, 2002

As told to Jenee Cline
The Santa Clara

Coming back from being down 0-5 in a set is quite a challenge in tennis. Coming back from cancer is no comparison.

For Santa Clara senior Nicole McCord, the No. 2 women's tennis player, the key to her victory over Hodgkin's disease and the ability to live out her dream was all "mind over matter."

I was diagnosed in June (1997), the last day of school my junior year, and went through chemotherapy until that Nov. of my senior year. Then, I went into radiation for two weeks. It was about seven months total.

Right after the tennis State Tournament, I went into the hospital, because I pulled a muscle in my stomach, or at least that's what I thought. I had gone in [to the hospital] 19 times previously about these swollen lymph nodes in my neck, but the doctors said they were fine. When I went in this time the doctor said, "You'll need to come back in a week and have a CT scan. No worries, there shouldn't be anything wrong."

So a week later my best friend and I left school after one of our finals. We drove across town so I could have this CT scan done. It was basically a cat scan where they inject dye into your vein. It highlights any tumors you have in your body.

My best friend was in the back in tears with all these neurologists while they were reading the tests. I had no clue what was going on and my mom wasn't there yet. So I sat up, pulled the IV out of my arm and turned around to ask what was going on. Never did I expect them to say, "you have seven tumors in your neck." It was Hodgkin's disease, stage 2A, which meant it was in the upper mantel of my body.

They caught it pretty early, but they could have caught it earlier if they had actually done something the other 19 times I had gone in about my lymph nodes. So it was basically a misdiagnosis. I was pretty irate!

I was scared. When you hear the word cancer you immediately think of death, ya know. My breath was completely taken away. I was initially scared and let down and cried.

After my first cycle of chemotherapy, I got really sick. I was puking for hours straight. It was the worst experience ever. One of the chemicals damaged my lungs, which is something I'll always have to deal with. And the radiation did damage to my heart and breasts, which means I am more susceptible to breast cancer and heart disease now.

My mom was amazing though. She was on the Internet right after I was diagnosed to find out everything we needed to know about it. She probed the doctors and asked questions continuously. My brother was 14 and he went to every one of my chemotherapies. He was amazing! My dad was great too. No one was distant at all. It basically brought everyone closer together. Same thing with my friends. At the time it wasn't hard to deal with or talk about at all, just because everyone was so open. It's pretty much just post-traumatic now.

I tried to live my life the same as I had prior to being diagnosed. I still went out with my friends, I played tennis, I went to school everyday. I took it into my own hands to schedule all of my chemotherapies around classes, so I never missed school. My grades were still as good as they had been prior to being diagnosed.

My freshman, sophomore and junior years I had played soccer, basketball and tennis. After I was diagnosed, I didn't play soccer or basketball, just because it was too hard on my body while I was going through chemotherapy. That was really hard for me to actually come to terms with ... not playing a team sport. Throughout the whole time I continued to play tennis because I knew it was the key to getting into a Division I school. I was fine because I believed I could (still play tennis). Honestly, that's what people don't realize when they're going through chemotherapy. They let it take over their body and their mind.

When my hair fell out, I chose to wear a wig sometimes, but other times I went without. That was probably one of the hardest things ... loosing my hair. Just cause it's part of your identity, especially as a 16- or 17-year-old girl. It seems trivial, but honestly it's one of the scariest things.

I actually played in a national tournament the week I was loosing my hair. I was out on the court and it was falling out all over the place. I was a wreck. In between sets my coach pulled me off the court and took me to the back. He shaved off all of my hair, and I went back out on the court in a bandana. I got killed in the match, but I was still out there. Looking back I can't believe I did that. I was an emotional wreck. I'm sure it was quite a production for those watching.

I don't believe any cancer is good, just because you have to endure so much going through it. But it teaches you something about life, and about what's really important. It's obviously my family. They were my crutch. I don't know what I would've done or where I would be now without them. My mom just kept saying to me, "You've got to go on living. Everything will work out for the best."

Now, I try not to take things for granted ... like hair (laugh)! And being able to get up every morning. Little things don't bother me anymore. But it's given me a lot of questions about life. I questioned faith prior to being diagnosed. I questioned faith even more when I was diagnosed. You know, the "why me" part.

I was pretty stubborn. I wasn't going to let it get in the way of my goals and aspirations. I had my heart set on coming here (Santa Clara) and playing tennis. I honestly believe in mind over matter. I think you can do anything if you put your mind to it.