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Sophomore Lauren Anderson using rugby as escape from cancer

Sophomore Lauren Anderson using rugby as escape from cancer

After a difficult physical therapy workout, Sophomore Lauren Anderson stands at the rugby field where she practiced before her relapse with cancer. Anderson says she's working hard and is hopeful to rejoin the team next season. Samantha Hardisty

Sophomore Lauren Anderson using rugby as escape from cancer
March 27
00:24 2017

In August 2014, biochemical sophomore Lauren Anderson received a diagnosis that would change her life forever. After noticing a bump on her neck that kept growing and would not go away, Anderson took action and went to the doctor.

But nothing prepared her for what the doctor was about to tell her.

After several tests, Anderson was diagnosed Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a disease that affects an estimated 8,260 people each year in the United States alone. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer that develops from cells in the lymphatic system and attacks white blood cells that are used to fight infections. With limited white blood cells, Anderson becomes at risk for more infections with a weakened immune system. After her diagnosis, she immediately began chemotherapy and a short time later, her cancer went into remission.

That’s when she enrolled at UNT, and, not long after, found another bump on the other side of her neck. The cancer had returned and Anderson, once again, was ready.

Anderson beat cancer for a second time and decided to branch out and join the UNT club rugby team as an outlet to escape the disease.

“Cancer made me feel weak, so I wanted to do something to make me feel strong,” Anderson said. “I liked the physicality of the sport. I fell in love with it.”

While at UNT, Anderson’s second bout with cancer ended up being tougher than her first. She was spending more time in the hospital and ultimately became bedridden, forcing her to miss the 2016 spring semester. During her stay in the hospital, Anderson did nothing but read fantasy novels and watch TV.

And hope the chemotherapy would kill the cancer.

It was in that moment Anderson knew if she was going to rid herself of the cancer, she would have to do something different. After hours of research on the UNT recreational sports website, Anderson settled on rugby and went to the Mean Green Fling to join the team.

The rest is history.

“Rugby was unique,” Anderson said. “I wanted to do something that was tough so I could prove that I was tough.”

Admittedly, Anderson knew nothing about the sport when she first started playing. That was fine, though.

She only had one thing on her mind.

“I like to hit people to take the aggression out,” Anderson said, “I have had a lot of bad days and rugby was there for me as a relief.”

Despite her love for the game, Anderson’s commitment to playing rugby was ultimately met with opposition from her family and doctors. Anderson’s older brother, Ryan, remembers the family’s reaction to being told she wanted to play.

“Mom wasn’t too thrilled about her wanting to play rugby,” he said. “I just wanted her to be smart about it.”

Anderson joined the team last fall, and after competing for a short time, ran into another obstacle.

As a side effect of her second round of chemotherapy, Anderson developed a condition called neuropathy — tingling and numbness in the extremities — forcing her to take the spring season off to recover. Although she is not currently playing for the team, Anderson still assists with recruiting, paperwork and fundraisers.

Criminal justice sophomore and woman’s rugby team president Hailey Malicoat hit it off with Anderson right away.

“She is always there for the team,” Malicoat said.”Even though she has had it rough over the past couple of years, she makes sure everyone on the team knows their problems are important, too.”

Anderson hopes to recover fully from her neuropathy by the summer so she can start running and training for the upcoming fall season. Through hard work in physical therapy, she wants to put her illnesses behind her and focus on her new passion.

“Rugby is very important to me right now, ” Anderson said, “I fell in love with it. It’s my getaway.”

Featured Image: After a difficult physical therapy workout, biochemical sophomore Lauren Anderson stands on the rugby field where she practiced before her relapse with cancer. Anderson says she’s working hard and is hopeful to rejoin the team next season. Samantha Hardisty

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Matthew Berger

Matthew Berger

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