By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Less than five months after undergoing a craniotomy to have most of a cancerous tumor removed from her brain, former Cal lacrosse player Stephanie Smith was running a 5k race in Philadelphia.
Apparently, that didn’t tire her out enough, because two weeks later she completed a half-marathon in Las Vegas.
If you are looking to make a withdrawl from the inspiration department, we think we’ve found your source.
“She’s really been such a fighter and an inspiration to all of us, and so positive,” said Smith’s former Cal teammate, Sam Price. “I’m just in awe of her, just seeing how she’s been going through everything and being so positive.”
Smith, a 2009 graduate, earned her law degree from the University of San Diego last spring. She went through graduation ceremonies on May 18. The next day, she had a seizure and was taken to a hospital in La Jolla in an ambulance. Further testing revealed she had cancer.
She underwent surgery the following month. Since then, Smith has undergone five rounds of chemotherapy treatment, all the while keeping in shape both physically and mentally.
“She’s absolutely amazing and she’s one of the strongest people I know,” said another former teammate, Ghillie Little. “We’ve been in awe watching her go through everything that she’s had to go through.”
Members of Smith’s inner circle – much of which are teammates from her 2009 class – learned of Smith’s ailment almost immediately. Price and Little, each of whom hail from the Northeast like Smith, were in contact with Smith’s mom the day she was taken to the hospital.
Since Smith learned of her ailment, her lacrosse family has been heavily involved in providing support, friendship and assistance. Not only did Smith participate in the 5k Race For Hope in Philadelphia, so did seven of her former Cal teammates. They all wore T-shirts that read “GO BEARS. BEAT CANCER” on the front with “SMITH 22” on the back. Smith wore No. 22 for the Bears.
The group plans on running in another Race For Hope in Washington, D.C. next month. The Race For Hope is a fundraiser that supports the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
Since the surgery, Smith has been living at her parents’ home in Forest Hill, Md. while being treated at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Before Little recently moved back to the Bay Area, she and Price spent a lot of time visiting Smith to provide support, so much so that they jokingly referred to the house as “Club Smith.” They were there, along with some other former teammates, when Smith had her “radiation graduation” from radiation treatment. Smith also had several fellow Cal lacrosse players at her house for a Christmas party last year.
“Sam and Ghillie have been here several times with open ears, open minds,” Smith said. “They have all been such very giving people. On those days that I don’t think I can keep going with what I dream for and I need a lift, I can let others know that I’m a little down in the dumps today and I am facing this or facing that, and they are there for you.”
Earlier this month, some of Smith’s former teammates established Stephstrong.com, a website that tells Smith’s story and provides information on upcoming fundraisers and different ways to help with her fight against brain cancer. Some of those in Smith’s class were in Berkeley last weekend for a reunion that celebrated the 15th season of the program, wearing their Smith T-shirts from the Race For Hope last fall.
“We’ve all seen each other in some of the best and some of the worst times we ever had athletically and academically,” Smith said. “I lived with them throughout college. We confided in each other when we needed help or encouragement. We had fun together and accomplished things together. They always want to be there for me and I always want to be there for them.”
Smith said it’s not only the bonds she formed with teammates that are helping her during her fight, but also the lessons she learned as a Cal student-athlete.
“The dedication the coaches asked us to devote to the team, and to our schoolwork and our families – all of those lessons and skills I learned really strengthened me through this process better than I could have expected,” Smith said. “Who knows what would have happened had I not played Cal lacrosse? Going to Cal put a lot of pride in my heart to get a lot accomplished and work hard for it.”
For more about Stephanie Smith and ways to help, go to www.stephstrong.com.