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Treatment can't stop Loyola's Geppi-Aikens

Someday, Loyola College women's lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens wouldlike to write a book. In the meantime, she plans to spend a lot more timeliving its chapters.

Until a few weeks ago, Geppi-Aikens hid part of the latest story line fromjust about everyone. Since her third operation to remove a recurring braintumor in January, she has been undergoing chemotherapy.

The surgery could not remove every bit of the tumor, so the chemotherapytreatment, which she takes at home in pill form, is battling what remains.

The chemotherapy, however, is not defeating Geppi-Aikens' typically upbeatstyle. It tires her out more quickly and slows her, but that isn't asdifficult as it used to be.

She slowed her mile-a-minute lifestyle after her first operation in 1995,but she still juggles jam-packed days - raising four children, keeping houseand handling a more-than-full-time job.

"I live a great life and I enjoy every day. Am I sick some days? Yes. Am Itired some days? Yes. But I'm a single mom with four kids. Right now, all myfriends are telling me now I'm a normal person. I get tired like normal peopledo, but for me I get tired more than I usually would."

Geppi-Aikens, 39, said she kept mum about the chemotherapy to protect herchildren, ages 8 to 16, and to try to make it through the lacrosse seasonwithout having to tell her Loyola players.

But she knew it was only a matter of time before someone spotted her goingto the oncology center at Johns Hopkins for her weekly blood tests.

Early this month, she realized word might be getting out. She didn't wanther children to hear rumors from and she didn't want her team to find out fromplayers on other teams.

She waited as long as possible - until May 7, two days before theGreyhounds would play Maryland in the NCAA tournament's first round - to tellher players. More than anything, she didn't want it to be an excuse if theylost, which they did.

"My team's used to adversity," she said. "They saw me have some seizuresearly on in the season at practice. They knew I had emergency pills in mypocket. They knew everything except for the chemotherapy. We lost because wedidn't play well, not because my team found out I was on chemotherapy."

Geppi-Aikens has every reason to be upbeat about her future. Her mostrecent brain scans showed no new growth of the cancer.

Though the nature of her tumor is that it is likely to come back, it mightnot, said her surgeon, Dr. Henry Brem, chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.

Her cancer has returned twice since the 1995 surgery, most recently inDecember. She had her third operation on Jan. 29.

"Her tumor seems to have a tendency to be stubborn," said Brem, adding thatjust because the tumor has returned, doesn't mean it is more aggressive. "Thistime, it was growing rapidly, but that makes it very vulnerable to thetherapies."

"I can live with this treatment and future treatments," Geppi-Aikens said."If things go well, I should be able to live a long, healthy life. Ifanybody's going to beat this thing, you know it's going to be me."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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