State - INACTIVE

CSU Stanislaus women's soccer team boosts Waterford teen's spirits

Megan Gonzalez is only 13, but she is still part of the California State Stanislaus women's soccer team.

The Warriors made Megan, a Waterford seventh-grader, a little sister to the squad -- an honor usually reserved for big supporters of the team. In this case, it's the team that's the big supporter.

In June, Gonzalez was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a form of cancer of the white blood cells. She is at the beginning of a long battle at Children's Hospital Central California in Madera.

In August, when the CSUS women's soccer team heard about Megan, whose parents, Chuck and Jill, both work at the university, they wanted to help.

"The coach approached me and said this was something the team wanted to do for Megan," Jill Gonzalez says.

Coach Gabriel Bolton got the idea from an episode of the HBO series "Real Sports" about a college lacrosse team that was supporting a patient with a brain tumor.

"It just popped into my head, what a great opportunity for a team to give back. We talked about things we could do as team and what Megan was going through," says Bolton, whose season ended in December.

Because the leukemia has left Megan with a depleted immune system, she's not allowed to have much outside contact and when she does get out, she tires quickly. That means home schooling and very little direct interaction with her friends.

Megan has spent 48 nights at Children's Hospital. It's a two- to three-hour round trip from her home for every visit.

When Megan does attend Warriors games, she has her own locker and hangs out with the team.

Bolton schedules team events later in the week because he knows Megan has chemo treatments at the start of the week.

The team also sends countless text messages and online connections to Megan.

"She got a message one day from the team when they were in Idaho," Jill Gonzalez says. "They told Megan she could decide what they would do that day and she picked going to the zoo. They brought her back a stuffed giraffe."

Megan says the team's support has helped her deal with this disease that seemingly came out of nowhere.

There is no history of cancer in Megan's family. The first sign something was wrong came when she had a fainting spell. The initial blood work showed no signs of cancer. Megan's health continued to decline and eventually she stopped eating.

Follow-up blood tests showed some abnormalities but nothing to suggest cancer. It was enough to get Megan a bone marrow biopsy and that revealed the ALL. Megan was admitted that night.

"ALL is the most common type of cancer kids get," says Dr. Daniel Ozeran. "Part of the reason it's so curable is because we have a lot of experience with it."

Generally, ALL manifests at a younger age (about 4 years old). Because Megan was diagnosed later, she is being treated a little differently.

Megan says the doctors have kept her informed and that helps her feel more in control.

"The doctors talk to her and we listen," Jill says. "That's nice because she knows everything that she will be going through."

The family also has been given a detailed list of how and when the treatment process will go over the next 2½ years. This helps the family make plans for the long trip to the hospital, which often includes music recorded for Megan by team members.

How well the chemotherapy works will determine if -- or how much -- radiation treatment Megan will have to have. At this point, a bone marrow transplant is not in the plans.

Chemo already has taken cost Megan her hair. She is sporting a black stocking cap with a white fox emblem on the side.

But she is taking it in stride, pointing out that her hair has already started to grow back.

All of the support -- from the soccer team to the Children's Hospital staff -- has touched the Gonzalez family so much that they have come up with a few ways to give back.

They are coordinating a relay for life May 15-16 in Waterford, a first for the community. For more information, go to relayforlife.org/waterfordca.

"I believe our team has gotten more out of doing this than Megan," Bolton says, "It puts everything in perspective. Anything we are facing never comes close to what she is going through.

"We love having her around."

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