Cavaliers bond to kick cancer

WINFIELD - October means more than just pink ribbons and fundraising events for South Carroll's girls soccer team.
The Cavaliers, like several high school sports teams in Carroll County, are doing their their part to support breast cancer awareness this month. There's wasn't a "Pink-Out" game or any specific team activity, but the players came up with a special T-shirt to wear under their uniforms.
This year's shirt is pink, and it carries plenty of meaning for the Cavs.
Like for Casey Ebeling, a sophomore midfielder on the varsity squad, whose mom Sandy is in her third year as SC's junior varsity coach. Sandy Ebeling is a breast cancer survivor going on eight years, and she says soccer has helped her overcome the odds.
"It's a good feeling to know that there are a lot of people out there rooting for you," said Ebeling, who was diagnosed in late 2005 and endured a pair of surgeries and radiation treatments the following year.
Ebeling said her cancer was fast-spreading but detected early enough to be treated without chemotherapy, but her journey took a strange turn last summer.
Ebeling recalls feeling a tightness in her chest one evening, and she told her husband John she was having a heart attack. He didn't believe her at first, but it turns out she was right - Ebeling said doctors told her, upon arriving at the hospital the next morning, she was lucky to be alive.
The radiation that was treating Ebeling's cancer somehow affected her heart, she said, and two stents were put in. Living a healthy lifestyle didn't prevent cancer or the heart attack, but Ebeling said she thinks it helped her recover quickly.
"I've actually tried to get healthier," she said. "I've always been healthy but I keep pushing myself to that level. They told me pretty much that I probably wouldn't have survived the heart attack had it not been for all the exercising and trying to keep myself in shape.
"I can't do as much of the exercising as I'd like, so this is awesome to be able to coach."
And to watch her daughter competing at the varsity level.
Casey Ebeling said she remembers feeling worried about her mother's health when she first heard about breast cancer. But that was eight years ago, and when October rolls around the 14-year-old takes time to reflect.
"I'm one of of those people who takes it and looks at it positively, and I never really thought of it as 'Oh my gosh, my mom's so sick,'" she said. "I thought of it as, 'She'll be stronger. This isn't the best point in life right now, but sooner or later we'll look back on it and it's going to make her stronger.' She's definitely stronger."
Sandy Ebeling's positive attitude and demeanor are evident throughout the program. Some of her daughter's teammates are using it as inspiration as well.
Junior defender Nicole Karukas didn't hesitate to spearhead the team's spirit wear and apparel for Breast Cancer Awareness month. The Cavs sport specially designed T-shirts and pink sports bras, Karukas said, to support the cause.
Like the Ebelings, the Karukases have first-hand experience dealing with breast cancer. Kristin Karukas, Nicole's mother, found out she had the disease last December.
Nicole Karukas said her mom is finished with her radiation treatments, but keeping busy with soccer has helped her and her sister, freshman Natalie Karukas, stay focused while their mother recuperates.
"It's been hard, but our mom is always so positive about that it's just made you not think so negatively about it," Natalie Karukas said.
Added Nicole: "I've never seen her without a smile on her face throughout the entire thing."
SC varsity coach Andrew Isacco said via email Sandy Ebeling and Kristin Karukas are "two of the strongest, and most humble, people you'll ever meet." Isacco said having the women close to the team has helped the Cavaliers put things in perspective - that's why they're both being honored with the T-shirts and other apparel.
For Ebeling, Karukas, and South Carroll's soccer program, October carries a special meaning.
"I definitely take it more seriously, because I know how it feels to have someone in your life with breast cancer," Casey Ebeling said. "It means a lot when people wear pink and really show that it is important to say, 'You survived, and congrats.' It really means a lot."

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