"Believe you are going to make it," are the words Kari Lucas lives by on a daily basis. Lucas, a Penn State sophomore softball student-athlete, understands the value of goal setting, hard work and the power of a positive attitude regardless of the circumstance she may face.
As a freshman, Lucas saw action in 44 games, starting 28 of those in the infield for the Nittany Lions. Yet, as a successful first year concluded in June, the Pennsylvania native's academic and athletic career was put on hold with the diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML); what was once a battle for a starting position on the field became a battle for her life.
A routine visit to the doctor for a minor ankle rash in June 2004 led to Lucas' cancer diagnosis. Rather than leaving the doctors and heading home for summer vacation, a five-month journey began as she checked into Hershey Medical Center. What was to follow is the remarkable story of a courageous woman who's family and friends' support, athletic prowess, and faith had her on the road to recovery quicker than ever imagined.
The truth of leukemia is that for most people risk factors associated with the disease and its cause remain unknown. Clearly this was the case for Lucas, as the week prior to her diagnosis she dominated two challenging summer workouts. The most difficult aspect of dealing with her cancer was the initial drive to the hospital. "I had no clue what to think. I guess I had so many questions and I was sure they had made a mistake. I was a healthy athlete, there was no way this could be true," Lucas remembers.
As the reality of her disease set in, she prepared for AML the same way she prepared for any season. "I took cancer as another tough softball conditioning workout. I just had to get through it and believe there was light at the end of the tunnel. I looked at every difficulty in my treatment as those last couple of sprints where your legs feel like Jell-O, but somehow I knew I could push on."
For many cancer patients the worst aspect of the disease exists in the rounds of chemotherapy. Throughout Lucas' four chemo treatments she stayed mentally focused, walking or running in between treatments to stay fit. "I honestly believe that because I was in such good shape physically it saved my life." For Lucas, beating cancer never seemed like the end goal, getting back on the field for the Nittany Lions was.
Aside from her physical and mental faculties developed through collegiate athletics, Lucas attributes her speedy recovery to her family, friends, and her faith in God. What is most impressive about this young woman, however, is not her recovery, but the attitude that has come from the life altering experience. "I live each day to the fullest and the silly things do not seem to be so silly anymore. I also thank God for everything and everyday I have because I know what it is like to have your life put on hold," Lucas comments.
Six months into recovery, Lucas has made it through the critical period of staying cancer free and a greater understanding for her purpose in life has set in. "I know it is over and I am cured. I honestly believe that leukemia was something I had to go through so I could help people. I always knew since I was young that I was destined to help people and leukemia gave me the vehicle to help others."
Lucas' coach, Robin Petrini, describes her as the "Gem of the Central Pennsylvania area." For this native-Pennsylvania gem the 2005 softball season has begun. Kari Lucas has spent the last year as a successful walk-on, realizing a battle with cancer, winning the battle and conditioning yet again for another season circling the diamond. Wherever her sights are aimed this season one thing is clear: for Kari Lucas winning in softball is like winning at the game of life, if you put your faith on the line, look to the support from others, and give it your all, success is a guarantee.