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Aikens endures toughest faceoff


The toughest part of the next few weeks, Diane Aikens says, will be relaxing.

Aikens, 32, constantly hurries across campus and town, serving the dual roles of assistant athletic director and women's lacrosse coach at Loyola College as well as mother of four. She rarely sits, sleeps or thinks about taking a vacation.

This time, she has no choice.

Aikens will have surgery tomorrow to remove a mass on her brain. Doctors have diagnosed that she has a tumor. A biopsy two days later will show if it is malignant or benign.

"I literally did not get upset except for about 1 1/2 minutes, about a half-hour after they told me and I was alone," said Aikens, whose children range in age from 11 months to 9 years. "Obviously, I'm scared and upset, but not as much as the average person would be. For me, to just sit at home or go away from my usual schedule would be more upsetting."

Robert Aikens, Diane's husband, said although his wife is upbeat about the operation, their discussions about the matter are very serious.

"Especially at her age, it's a big surprise," Robert said. "You don't want to think about those things until it hits home. You think you're immortal. It's a major thing for us to deal with."

Since the diagnosis earlier this month, she has had to endure limitations. Aikens, who takes pride in having her family and players depend on her, can't drive until further notice and has to rely on her husband or her father for transportation.

She remains extremely organized, sketching out family and practice schedules for the next few weeks on her computer. Aikens said she wants everything to continue smoothly during her recovery.

"There's no reason why I shouldn't be back for the George Mason game on April 11 if all goes well," said Aikens, who plans to miss five games. "Malignant or benign, I look to come back in that time frame. For now, I don't think anything will change my plans for the end of the season."

No one doubts that Aikens will be back as soon as possible.

She missed but two days last April after the birth of her daughter, Shannon Leigh, by Caesarean section.

"People come up to me and say I lead a stressful life," she said. "But I don't think so. To me, a stressful life is where you're pulling your hair out, and I'm not doing that. That's not to say I get much sleep, and I barely sit down. It's not unlike me to get two or three hours of sleep.

"I know what I have to do each day, like help my kids with their homework or read a bedtime story. I try to work everything into a disorganized life."

Even during her ordeal, Aikens has consoled Michele Meyer, a third-team All-American who recently suffered a severe knee injury.

"She's just the most amazing person I have ever met," Meyer said. "She didn't think of herself when I came crying about my knee. Every time we play, she's in the back of our mind. It's really hard, and we're pretty devastated. But she tries to joke about it."

After Loyola's third overtime game in five games, Aikens said that the Greyhounds were "going to give her another tumor." Because she will be getting her head shaved for the operation, Aikens asked the players to bring their hats for her.

Under Aikens, Loyola has flourished, advancing to the Final Four last year and winning its first six games this season to be ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Greyhounds have rallied around Aikens, who told them about her condition in a brief meeting capped with a joke.

The players cleaned Aikens' house last weekend, and will keep in touch with Aikens daily by phone. Monday's practice was Aikens' last for a few weeks, and she missed yesterday's 15-7 win at American because of pre-surgical testing.

Aikens' ailment can be traced to last June, one of the few times she has strayed from her rigorous schedule. Camping with Robert, she experienced seizures, sometimes having no control of her left leg.

"I thought my body was rejecting rest," said Aikens, who became a coach at Loyola in 1984 and assistant AD in May 1993. "It never occurred to me that they were seizures and I would have a tumor."

The seizures periodically reoccurred for the next eight months. In February, Aikens fell on her back warming up a goalie and got checked by the trainer.

After learning of Aikens' seizures, the trainer instructed her to see a specialist immediately. Two weeks ago, doctors diagnosed the tumor.

Aikens' surgeon, Dr. Henry Brem, would not discuss her specific case. But he said that a person who has a level-three tumor removed will have a hospital stay of at least one week, followed by a minimum of one week of bed rest at home.

After learning of the tumor, Robert and Diane both did research at the library and talked with several doctors and knowledgeable friends.

"Basically, learning and becoming more aware of the subject makes us a lot more optimistic," Robert said. "But the other thoughts are still there."

Friends refuse to expect anything but the best.

"She is wonderful and the strongest person I know," junior goalkeeper Erika Schaub said. "It's hard to explain, but if it were anyone else but Di, I would worry more."


(Through Sunday's games)

No. .. .. ..School .. .. .. .. ..Record

1. .. .. ...Princeton .. .. .. .. ..4-0

2. .. .. ...Maryland .. .. .. .. ...4-0

3. .. .. ...Loyola .. .. .. .. .. ..5-0

4. .. .. ...James Madison .. .. .. .4-2

5. .. .. ...Dartmouth .. .. .. .. ..2-0

6. .. .. ...Virginia .. .. .. .. ...1-3

7. .. .. ...Harvard .. .. .. .. .. .2-1

8. .. .. ...Temple .. .. .. .. .. ..3-1

9. .. .. ...Old Dominion .. .. .. ..3-3

10. .. .. ..Penn State .. .. .. .. .2-3

11. .. .. ..Delaware .. .. .. .. ...3-3

12. .. .. ..William and Mary .. .. .4-1

13. .. .. ..Georgetown .. .. .. .. .4-1

14. .. .. ..Brown .. .. .. .. .. ...4-0

15. .. .. ..Yale .. .. .. .. .. .. .3-0

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