Story courtesy of Cleveland State Sports Information Intern Martin Rickman
CLEVELAND -- It is easy to take sports too seriously. Coaches, athletes and fans put their soul into the game and life far too often takes a backseat. But there are times when sports have the ability to impact a person's life and to make a difference.
For the Cleveland State women's soccer team, that time comes on August 30 at 12 p.m., when the Vikings will be hosting a Cancer Awareness game. The match is the home opener against Eastern Illinois.
"All of our lives have been affected by cancer and we all know someone who has it," senior defender Jess McCloy said. "So this hits especially close to home for us. Hopefully this gives us a chance to show our support and maybe raise a little money for the cause."
The game was envisioned after sophomore Samantha Harris was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome, a type of colon cancer, last season. The team rallied behind Harris and did everything they could to show their support, including wearing shirts with Harris's name on the back during a game in the spring.
"All the support and encouragement the team has given me has been so helpful," Harris said. "They are always there if I need someone to talk to or something to do."
Harris had surgery and received treatment and chemotherapy over the summer and has returned to campus for the fall semester. She is taking 19 credit hours and between full days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a lab on Tuesday, she is still receiving treatment.
"She's struggling with being the kid that has cancer," head coach Derrek Falor said. "That's a tough moniker to wear. If that could just magically go away, that would be easier for her. The school semester starting will help take her in a different direction too. As we get her back on campus and she's with the team more and in classes, I think that will perk her up more.
"Realistically considering that she's in the middle of chemo and had surgery, I think she's doing well. Her spirits are pretty high. Ideally if everything goes well she'll be back on the practice field. We're shooting for the middle of October and we really hope that's a possibility."
The team is fully behind Harris, who started four years under head coach Caleb Ruetter at Avon Lake High School. She was an honorable mention on the Greater Cleveland team and was second-team All-Lorain County as a senior. At the conclusion of the game, Avon Lake will be playing rival Westlake.
The Vikings will wear yellow jerseys and will auction them off after the game. Proceeds from the game and the auctions will go to the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, where Harris is receiving treatment.
"We went back and forth with whether we should look at the Armstrong Foundation or do something else," Falor said, "and everyone knows the yellow bracelets, but it didn't do anything to help anybody we could touch. So, I called the center and asked if it was appropriate for us to do this. Maybe we can help people in Northeast Ohio to consider the Taussig Center when they need treatment."
The Taussig Center, ranked the number one cancer center in Ohio by US News and World Report, opened in 2000. It is home to departments of hematologic oncology and blood disorders, radiation oncology, regional oncology, solid tumor oncology and translational hematology and oncology research.
"The Taussig Center is so nice," Harris said. "I love that place because it doesn't have the hospital feel, which is great because I am there all the time. The nurses are really wonderful."
The center conducts research into prevention, causation and treatment, with the goal of ultimately finding a cure. It receives significant funding from ice-skating champion Scott Hamilton's CARES initiative. Hamiltion is a cancer survivor and he received his treatment at the Taussig Center.
"The hard thing is that Sam's cancer is not a particular cancer that everyone's aware of," Falor said. "Everyone's done a breast cancer thing and that's an obvious one, but this one is unique and that's why we have kept it as general cancer awareness.
"That's the message we're trying to send is that it is not just one kind. It is a terrible disease and everyone has to deal with it from the people who are healthy to the ones who are sick with it."
The team, which finished with a school record eight wins last season, is hoping to make a splash in Horizon League play. They will have a good chance to do so, with 16 returning letterwinners and seven starters. And Harris will be on the sidelines to give the Vikings a spark, all while she continues to work towards making her way back on the practice field.
"She can fight through this and she can get back on the field and do what she loves," Falor said. "We're using this game to celebrate life and the chance that we still have and what can be done to get through this. It is a big statement and we have to do what we can do to get a bunch of people there."