A diagnosis of cancer at any age is traumatic, but getting that diagnosis a few months before high school graduation is especially devastating. Senior Hailey Vonasek from Sparks, Md., faced that scenario four years ago when she received the news that she had ovarian cancer.
In early March 2011, as a senior in high school, Vonasek suffered discomfort in her lower abdomen while playing soccer. Her doctor initially thought she was suffering from a sports hernia or a cyst. Instead, her symptoms were caused by a 13-centimeter mass on her ovaries. A week after having surgery to remove her ovaries, she learned the mass was cancerous.
Rather than making carefree high school memories, Vonasek spent much of her senior year getting chemotherapy, four rounds every three weeks, at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore, Md. She lost all of her hair, but still was able to graduate with her class at Notre Dame Prep, albeit bald.
“It was scary thinking that I could die,” says Vonasek, “but then I said ‘I need to keep a positive outlook on this.’ I think my mom was more scared than me, but I didn’t want this to affect me.”
Vonasek’s soccer career was put on hold as she underwent treatments. Her only workouts came every three weeks, when she was physically able following her chemo.
“I was headed to the University of Rhode Island to play soccer, but ended up having to take a medical red-shirt,” Vonasek says. “When the doctors told me that there was no way I would play again, I was determined to prove them wrong.”
Vonasek left Rhode Island after a short time and enrolled at BU where she is majoring in exercise science. “Coming to Bloomsburg was a good fit academically and athletically for me,” Vonasek says. “Plus it allowed me to be closer to home for my monthly treatments.”
The first time she played in a game was very emotional. “I cried after my first pre-season scrimmage,” Vonasek adds. “I didn’t think I’d be so emotional, but it felt so good to be back on the field.”
Now cancer-free for four years, Vonasek is looking forward to July 16, 2016, when she hits the five-year mark. “It’s a date I think about all the time,” she says. •
Tom McGuire is BU’s director of sports information.