Someday, Loyola College women's lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens would like to write a book. In the meantime, she plans to spend a lot more time living its chapters.
Until a few weeks ago, Geppi-Aikens hid part of the latest story line from
just about everyone. Since her third operation to remove a recurring brain
tumor in January, she has been undergoing chemotherapy.
The surgery could not remove every bit of the tumor, so the chemotherapy
treatment, which she takes at home in pill form, is battling what remains.
The chemotherapy, however, is not defeating Geppi-Aikens' typically upbeat
style. It tires her out more quickly and slows her, but that isn't as
difficult 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 house
and handling a more-than-full-time job.
"I live a great life and I enjoy every day. Am I sick some days? Yes. Am I
tired some days? Yes. But I'm a single mom with four kids. Right now, all my
friends are telling me now I'm a normal person. I get tired like normal people
do, but for me I get tired more than I usually would."
Geppi-Aikens, 39, said she kept mum about the chemotherapy to protect her
children, ages 8 to 16, and to try to make it through the lacrosse season
without having to tell her Loyola players.
But she knew it was only a matter of time before someone spotted her going
to the oncology center at Johns Hopkins for her weekly blood tests.
Early this month, she realized word might be getting out. She didn't want
her children to hear rumors from and she didn't want her team to find out from
players on other teams.
She waited as long as possible - until May 7, two days before the
Greyhounds would play Maryland in the NCAA tournament's first round - to tell
her players. More than anything, she didn't want it to be an excuse if they
lost, which they did.
"My team's used to adversity," she said. "They saw me have some seizures
early on in the season at practice. They knew I had emergency pills in my
pocket. They knew everything except for the chemotherapy. We lost because we
didn'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 most
recent brain scans showed no new growth of the cancer.
Though the nature of her tumor is that it is likely to come back, it might
not, said her surgeon, Dr. Henry Brem, chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.
Her cancer has returned twice since the 1995 surgery, most recently in
December. She had her third operation on Jan. 29.
"Her tumor seems to have a tendency to be stubborn," said Brem, adding that
just because the tumor has returned, doesn't mean it is more aggressive. "This
time, it was growing rapidly, but that makes it very vulnerable to the
"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. If
anybody's going to beat this thing, you know it's going to be me."
Treatment can't stop Loyola's Geppi-Aikens
Despite chemotherapy, coach's life as full as ever
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