Refusal to Change
Oakton senior soccer player Stacey Woods refused to let cancer change her goals.
By BJ Koubaroulis
Photo by Pam Brooks/The Connection
June 23, 2006
Stacey Woods was determined that her life would not change. Woods, a 17-year-old senior and soccer player at Oakton High School, admitted that she gave in to her emotions after doctors told her she had cancer last Halloween at 10 a.m. It was the first and last time she cried about having cancer. It was also the last time she let cancer rule her emotions.
"When you hear the word 'cancer' you think of death," said Woods, who left her parents Chris and Jill Luttges with doctors while she attempted to pull herself together in the bathroom of Inova Fairfax Hospital.
"The doctor just came in and very politely said 'the tumor is malignant,'" recalled Woods, who admitted that she cried by herself in the hospital's bathroom. "I think I was almost in shock, I didn’t really comprehend it."
Woods was given the news that her enlarged thyroid, a condition that she had been monitoring since her freshman year in high school, had become malignant and that her thyroid would have to be removed.
"I thought it was unfair and thought I hadn’t done all the things I wanted to do," said Woods.
So she did them anyway.
THAT DREADFUL day became a microcosm of what the next few months of Woods's life would be like. She returned to school that day in an attempt to save her four-year perfect attendance record and even attended a Halloween party with friends that very night.
"I have always had perfect attendance through high school," said Woods, who graduated with a grade point average above a 4.0. "I personally love going to school. For me to just miss that [perfect attendance record], something you work so hard for... My teachers were so kind and so willing to help me, so it's kind of like all my hard work in school paid off in a different way."
"I could do nothing else all day," said Jill, who described the news and the hospital visit as devastating. "It could have been a very dark time for us. [Stacey] set the whole tone for our entire family. The way she has handled this and the very positive attitude she has had has turned everything around for us."
Woods refused to change her life goals even though she didn't know if she would have the strength, ability, or health to make good on the promises she made to herself from an early age.
"She has lived her entire childhood for this moment in her soccer career," said Jill of her daughter who played soccer throughout her youth keeping one goal in mind. "Every team that she was on was so when she was a senior in high school, she could be a starter and captain."
Just days after her diagnosis, Woods underwent surgery to remove her thyroid.
"The surgery went well," said Woods, who plucked the Nov. 7 date of her surgery out of her memory with ease. It's a painful day she'll never forget. "When they take out your thyroid, they take out your parathyroids and then they put them back in. My body had a really hard time absorbing calcium."
Woods was hospitalized for a total of three weeks, which set her back even further in her goal of being the most physically conditioned player on the girls soccer team.
"I ended up being the complete opposite of that," said Woods, who by the start of the soccer season could not physically keep up with her teammates. "I felt it was my chance to shape the team and make it go as far as it could. It was really hard for me, almost embarrassing, to not be able to run the timed-mile as fast as everybody else. I couldn’t provide that leadership physically. But I could in spirit."
WOODS WAS NAMED a team captain and despite undergoing painful treatments, including quarterly exams and being put on supplemental thyroid medication, which took away her ability to create her own saliva, she never missed one soccer game in Oakton's 3-9-1 finish this season. She would even crawl out of bed to make several 5:30 a.m. practices.
"One of the side effects of the radioactive treatment that I had," said Woods, who was isolated in a room by herself for two days while doctors could only approach her with protective chemical suits. "It makes your mouth extremely dry. For running on the soccer field, it would be difficult to keep my mouth wet, so I would always have to chew gum."
Woods was also named to the second team all-Concorde District squad this past soccer season.
"She started every single game," said head coach Lon Pringle, who at the start of the season was forced to plan for a season without Woods. She eventually became the team's best midfielder. "Therein lies the most remarkable part of it," added Pringle. "After she told me she had been diagnosed, she said 'I think this is like a test. It's like I have this disease for a reason and the reason is that I am supposed to learn something, but I don't know what it is, so I have to go through it.'"
Woods will attend the University of Virginia where she plans to study education. She was honored with the Cougar Courage Award at the Oakton High School sports banquet last Friday.
"I think that I have learned so much. I almost feel like when I got back to high school, it's hard for me to relate [to my peers]," said Woods, whose new life-goals are to get married, start a family and become a teacher. "I have almost seen my life flash before my eyes. I know what's important to me now. I know how important it is that I work towards those goals, because cancer can come back at any time."
Woods, who has her blood drawn every two weeks, will continue to undergo evaluations and will return from UVA over the winter break for her next quarterly check up with doctors at George Washington University Hospital.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Posted by BJ Koubaroulis... at 10:00 AM