Women’s soccer player battles cancer

Kylie Austin
Kylie Austin

Kylie Austin, history freshman and defender for the women’s soccer team, was on her way to move into her dorm in Killingsworth Hall when she received a call from a doctor that would change her life forever. Earlier that summer, Austin was seeing a specialist for a respiratory infection when a doctor found a lump in her throat.  She then found herself going through numerous exams and trials to determine the cause of the lump.

“There were so many blood tests, I could not even keep track,” Austin said. “The doctor sent me to do CT Scans, X-rays, as well as scoped my throat.”

With less than an hour to go in her move-in drive to campus, Austin received a call—the pathology results were in. After repeated tests, doctors concluded that Austin had thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer is the fastest growing cancer in both men and woman, and is one of the only cancers increasing in incidence rates. The American Cancer Society estimated that in America around 62,890 new cases of thyroid cancer will arise in 2014.

Austin said she was stunned to become one of those cases.

“I had been preparing for the worst but it was different when the doctor actually confirms it,” Austin said. “After that it was like, ‘OK, what do I need to do now, and how do I need to do things to get through all of this.’ ”

Austin would need surgery for a complete thyroid removal, and some lymph nodes were to be taken out as well. The surgery would take place at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“M.D. Anderson is the best in the world for a reason. I was beyond blessed to be from Houston and have them so close,” Austin said.

Austin said she was nervous, naturally, because it was the first time she needed surgery, but she said the thyroid removal ended up being the least of her troubles.

“Surgery was easy,” Austin said, “recovery was the b**ch.”

Austin said the post-procedure pain was enormous, as she struggled to even pull herself up from a laying position. She stayed in the hospital for two extra days, attached to a morphine drip.

“You don’t realize how much effort small things take until you have no energy,” Austin said.

Not being able to do many activities especially aggravated Austin, who said she prefers to stay active.

“I’m always busy doing something; it killed me to just sit around,” she said.

Although Austin was in pain, she said she remained positive the best she could. One way she stayed positive and determined was through soccer. Austin is a defender for the women’s soccer team she said. Damian Clarke, women’s soccer head coach, was understanding and supportive from the get-go, Austin said.

“Without a doubt soccer was a motivational factor. There was a point where the doctors wouldn’t let me touch a ball because it got my heart rate up too much and they almost made me stop watching it but I fought them on that. The whole time I was just sitting on fire waiting to play,” Austin said. “Everyone was really supportive and most were more worried than I was. I just wanted to do this and that to get back on the pitch. The more I talked to people about it with that attitude the more it started to catch on, which made it easier on everyone.”

Not only were her teammates behind her, they took it a step further and decided to play every game in Austin’s honor.

“At the beginning of the year we, as a team, decided to dedicate this season to Kylie. It was Kylie’s dream to play college soccer, and suddenly that opportunity was stripped away from her,” said Brooke Bottensek, business freshman and goalkeeper for the team. “As a family the least we could do was play for her.”

Destinee Williamson, criminal justice freshman and forward, said, “We were inspired because we actually had something to fight for. We made this jersey with her last name on it that I personally looked at everytime I left the locker room to go out on the field. She is back on campus and that inspiration is now right in front of us. There is no greater feeling to win not only for three points, but to win for someone.”

After a few weeks of rest and recovery post operation, Austin was back on the pitch. She was not at 100 percent on the field, but with a ball at her feet it meant the world to her.

“I was able to play again, just taking things slowly, and stopping when my body tells me to,” Austin said.

Not only was the woman’s soccer team showing its support, but Austin’s fight drew the attention from an even bigger crowd. Chris Canetti, president of the professional soccer teams Houston Dynamo and Dash, took to Twitter to wish Austin luck in her fight.

“Sorry to hear of your diagnosis. You will get through this. The Houston Dynamo and Dash are behind you. Stay strong!” Canetti said on Twitter.

Several professional players for the Dash, as well as their supporters, also weighed in. The hash tags #KylieStrong, and #3forKylie were created, which means win for Kylie because soccer teams receive three points for a victory in league standings.

Outside of soccer, her family, friends and humor are helping Austin through her battle. Her dad took the news the hardest, Austin said, because she was the baby of the family. Rick Austin, Kylie’s father was beyond worried for his little girl.

“I was horrified, so I said a little prayer and tried not to let it show on my face. I was laughing at Ky because she was more worried about not being able to contribute to the team at MSU than having cancer,” Rick Austin said.

Austin said she had some points in the recovery where she was down but being able to joke about the situation and laughing was one of the best medications for her.

“I had a couple of low points. One time I just completely broke down with the why me, and why now questions. The other points were just being so tired and lacking energy,” Austin said. “It was easier for me to make jokes about what I was going through than dealing with the poor pitiful me thing. When can you use cancer jokes if you don’t have it? You can’t because that’s insensitive, so I just have a lot of fun with it. It could be worse than it is.”

Kylie’s mother Stacy said she feared for her daughter, as any mother would.

“Mom’s raise kids to keep them from harming themselves, and here’s this mass growing inside of her that I can do nothing about. So I stayed focused on getting it out,” Stacy Austin said. “We were blessed to have amazing doctors, and M.D. Anderson in Houston is really the best place to have cancer. I knew my God was bigger than cancer, if I kept my head down and focused on our part that God would handle the rest.”

Mrs. Austin also looked for humor in the situation along with her daughter.

“God gave Kylie and I a great sense of humor. We both made it a point to keep each other laughing,” Stacy Austin said. “She is the best thing I’ve made; I love this girl more than life itself.”

Thomas Parides, business freshman, is one of Austin’s best friends on campus. Through the entire process, he has been alongside Kylie even when she was in Houston getting treated. He might have physically been in Wichita Falls, but mentally he was there with her.

“I just met Kylie a few months ago, but I can already say she’s the strongest person I have ever met,” Parides said. “When you care for someone, it’s not all about being with them; it’s more about being there for them.”

While her surgery is behind her, Austin is still fighting cancer today. There are still cancer cells remaining, and Austin said a few have even gotten more aggressive. Her next treatment is drinking radioactive iodine when she returns to Houston after finals. She fought back to get on the field, but recently was in a car wreck that flipped her truck three times which has once again sidelined her. Austin said she is focused on getting back to soccer, and beating cancer more than ever before.

“This fight is not over.”