Cal Goalkeeeper Fights Cancer, With a Little Help from Her Friends

Oct. 25, 2007

BERKELEY, Calif. -

By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Sports Writer

The diagnosis came a few weeks ago for California goalkeeper Jorden LaFontaine-Kussmann -- lymphoma.

Now the 18-year-old freshman is about to undergo her second round of chemotherapy to attack a large mass in the middle of her chest. When she told her friends on the men's soccer team she will soon be bald, they beat her to it: They shaved their heads in support.

'She's amazing,' said Jordan Bethke, a freshman goalie on the Cal men's team. 'She's dealing with it like a champ.'

LaFontaine-Kussmann is handling her ordeal with a sense of humor and sense of purpose. She insists she will be back on the field for the 2008 season.

'I kind of just feel like I'm injured for six months,' she said. 'I will pick back up where I left off. Not playing soccer is not an option.'

LaFontaine-Kussmann is staying in school, choosing not to return home to Lakewood, Wash., for treatment because of the support at Cal.

The men's players sporting what are now buzz cuts -- the hair is growing back and they plan to shave again -- but that's just the beginning.

Her teammates are wearing navy blue wristbands with the initials 'JLK' and lime green warmup shirts donated by the Missouri women's soccer team. The Cal players also had green bracelets made in honor of Jorde, as they call her, and are planning a head scarf and hat party so she is prepared to stay warm this winter.

Teammate Megan Jesolva cut her hair to have a wig made for LaFontaine-Kussmann. Cal also is trying to get former players involved.

'I sent an e-mail out to the coaches in Division I and asked if they had any experiences to share,' first-year Cal coach Neil McGuire said. 'The overwhelming response has been incredible. Not only are we mobilizing but so are other programs.'

When the Bears play at Arizona State on Friday night, the Sun Devils will wear wristbands in her honor. Former Cal coach Kevin Boyd is now at ASU, and he recruited LaFontaine-Kussmann.

She will move into an apartment next week, with one of her sisters who has relocated to the Bay Area to help. Her parents also will be around regularly.

Because her cancer affects the cells of the immune system, LaFontaine-Kussmann has to be extra careful not to get sick. After her chemo treatments, which last anywhere from six to eight hours at a time, she is zapped. So having her own space and being out of the dorms will allow her to be much more comfortable as she recovers.

She will have five more chemo sessions spaced over three-week spans, followed by two months of radiation.

The last thing she wants is to be treated as if she is sick.

'Why be down and depressed about it?' she said. 'I have the best situation going -- a school that cares. I kind of feel lucky.'

LaFontaine-Kussmann, who feels blessed to have both her biological and adopted father in her life and thus the hyphenated last name, began experiencing sharp chest pains last month. While convinced they would go away, she told the team trainer anyway. And then began a whirlwind week of tests and scans and more exams.

She's thankful that she spoke up. Doctors said the fast-growing mass had been developing for about a year, but the cancer hadn't spread and most likely would respond well to treatment. Two years ago, she dealt with a skin cancer on the Achilles' tendon area of her left foot.

'I don't want to say I'm not emotional because I am,' she said. 'But it's just another bump in the road. It's hard sometimes. It's not an option not to get through it.'

LaFontaine-Kussmann already has lopped 8 inches off her long hair and is sporting a stylish bob. She planned to trim it one more time before the chemicals in her body do their part and she loses it all.

'I'm still holding onto the hope it won't fall out,' she said with a grin, superstitiously crossing her fingers on both hands and holding them in the air. 'It's nice. I have never had hair this short, so it gives me a reason to try it.'

LaFontaine-Kussmann is trying to stay active with the team as much as possible. Some days are better than others. This week, she helped set up cones and kicked the ball around as long as she could before becoming too winded.

'Whenever I feel well, I try to join in,' she said.

She had to drop one class, but her professors and academic advisers have been eager to assist.

'It's going to be tough, but a lot of things are going to be tough,' she said. 'I've been here three months and have made so many friends who would do that for me.'

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