In today's paper is the inspirational story of Shoreham-Wading River junior Kait Suarez, who has fought back from two bouts with Hodgkin's lymphoma to become a key cog on defense for the three-time defending state Class C champion Wildcats.
On Wednesday, before SWR's 15-9 win at Eastport-South Manor, the diminutive Suarez and her parents spoke to me about what she's been through since being diagnosed the summer after her freshman year.
Suarez missed the bulk of her sophomore year battling the disease, but in the few months she was in school that year, she made the varsity cross country team and, upon returning in the spring, she was at every lacrosse practice and game she felt healthy enough to attend.
Here are parts of our conversation that did not make it into the paper...
Suarez on wanting to play lacrosse growing up in Shoreham: "You grew up in Shoreham and all of a sudden we started winning states and I was like 'wow, we have a great program,' and it's something I'm definitely interested in."
On the healing process: "It takes a lot longer than I thought it was going to. Besides the visible things, like my hair being short, but just mentality and being able to know that I came back and scored after everything I went though [she scored her first career goal April 9 against Comsewogue]. Last year, I was still wearing a bandana. It's amazing. It's a great feeling. I just love it, I love it."
On the team adopting her as an honorary member of the team last year when she was sick: "I feel like I owe so much to the team. They helped me so much last year that, even sitting on the bench, being a part of this, is magnificent. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I love playing, but if I was sitting on the bench, I'd love that too."
On her future: "I'm going to keep working to see how much better I can get. This is just the beginning."
*Wednesday night at ESM, Suarez played right defense for 18 minutes in the first half and nearly another 18, including crunch-time minutes down the stretch, in the second. So clearly SWR coach Bob Vlahakis is comfortable enough with her ability to put her in tough spots.
Suarez also said she plans to keep up with building up the Teen Room she helped create at Stony Brook University Hospital's Child Life Center, and her fund, "Kaitlin's Fight Fund," to donate money to cancer research.
"I knew so many other children that had gone through a lot more than I went through," she said. "Kids getting chemo for the rest of their life. I felt, I am better, and I understand the importance of helping these kids.
"I really felt sympathetic to the kids with me, and now I'm out, and I just want to give back to them and give them a room where they can just relax because I know I would have loved a room like that when I was there."
Joe Suarez what the family's life has been like in the past couple years: "We've had a couple scares. It's been a rollercoaster ride."
He added the Make-A-Wish foundation sent the family to Hawaii over the Christmas break, and that when they got back, Suarez was given a clean bill of health. Doctors told the family the disease has a 95 percent survival rate.
"It's awesome," Joe Suarez said with tears filling up in his eyes. "It's amazing, it really is."
Joe Suarez on whether Kait's physical shape before she got sick contributed to her being able to fight off the cancer: "We don't know that, but what I can say to you is that her mental state of mind out of the gate was as positive as possible, and we were pumped up. We said 'let's get past the tears and fight it.'"
More from Joe Suarez: "She's very strong-hearted. She's very focused. She really didn't shed too many tears.
"When you first find out about it, you say 'what good can come of this?'" he continued. "This is a 15-year old girl, why should she have to endure this? There's always that thought in the back of your mind of loss. What good can come out of this? So much good came out of this, and we're blessed she's healthy now and in remission. God forbid if we had to go through any more in the future, we'll still have that positive feeling that we'll tackle it. We'll get past it and move on."
Carol Suarez on Kait getting treatments: "It was like 'hurry up, get the needles out because I have to run.'"
Joe on the impact of being with the team: "Coach V was tremendous. He just ran with it. It was her family. It was her way to be part of the school even when she wasn't at school. It's part of the healing process. She's blessed to have that."
Carol on returning to such a quality team after so much time away from the game: "This is Shoreham-Wading River varsity lacrosse. Mr. V is not going to play you unless he believes you're a good player. ...Mr. V, he's a prince, we couldn't have asked for a more generous, kind person."
Coach Bob Vlahakis after the game: "Every time I see Kait on the field running around and hustling, it inspires me, and I know that it inspires her teammates because she's really just loving it. She's got a smile on her face and playing hard. She holds her own. Athletically, she's quicker than anybody. It's a tremendous story. And she's giving us valuable minutes at a position where we lost a lot of girls from last year."
Corinne Wiederkehr, who along with Codi Mullen helped get the team to adopt Kait, on seeing her play: "She's really put all of her effort into it. She really wants to contribute and she's doing a great job. Through the whole process, she's been totally positive about the whole thing, she's kept her head up through it all. She's been supporting our team and it was our turn to support her. She's the heart of our team."
Here is a video posted on Facebook from the "Fight for Kait" night that was held in the SWR gym last year.