I didn’t show a shred of emotion for a few hours after hearing the news. It was an evening when I should have been showing up to the last practice of double days.
The first person I told was my coach, Nina Matthies. Like any normal person, she was incredibly concerned about the outcome of my doctor’s visit. I was still in my “I’m invincible, nothing can harm me” phase. To this day, that phone call haunts me. It was the first time I “got it.” I remember her voice on the other end while trying to make out her words between the crashing waves at Sunset Blvd and Pacific Coast Highway. I’d simply called to say I wouldn’t be at practice that evening due to the visit to UCLA. As a D1 athlete you simply don’t miss practice especially during double days, so Nina had a hunch something was up. She asked what happened. I just flat out told her: It’s cancer. “Oh my god, Ali.”
Nina helped me snap out of the cloud I’d been floating on the few hours prior to the diagnosis. I bit my lip, fought the tears, and sucked it up. I assured her I’d be fine. I spent the ride to my dorm room in silence.
It didn’t get any easier when I had to tell my best college girlfriends. I vowed to stop by their room as soon as I got back. When I walked in the door, I remember my best friend Kristin looking at me with an all too concerned look I would see many more times in the years to come. Her and Sophia knew before I could say anything. I received bear hugs until I stopped crying. I gathered enough air to crack a joke. Humor is a nasty little thing. It fixes things for only a moment. It allows your soul to hide behind its shield, and that shield that blocks out all real emotion. Humor is only a Band-Aid. In the end the hurt is still there.
I wish I could say there’s a good way to break the news to those you love – that there is some magical step-by-step here’s how we’re going to get through this without tears guide. There isn’t. It’s an emotional thing to do. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay to be scared when faced with your own morality.