Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hampton's Jenkins is a survivor

Jericka Jenkins was on the bench, her left ankle in a boot. She didn't know when she would play again for the Hampton Lady Pirates. She knew this, though. She'd play.

It was just an ankle, after all, she said staring at it. It's not cancer. She's had that.

"I was 14 years old," she said.

She beat it, too.

"I was 15 years old," she said. "Bald and in high school."

She felt a swelling above her collar bone one afternoon at the end of a track meet. It will go away, a doctor told her. It didn't. She felt a second lump.

"You have cancer." She remembers the words.

"I went home and cried," she said. Then she looked it up and learned about Hodgkins lymphoma, an abnormal growth of cells in the lymph system.

"Am I going to die?" she asked.

The doctors told her no. It was mild. At the end of her freshman year, she began the first of six rounds of chemotherapy. Three weeks of radiation followed.

"My hair started falling out right away," she said. "After the second treatment I didn't eat. I just lay in the bed the whole time. My stomach hurt. I was really nauseated. And so fatigued."

She got permission from Lancaster (Texas) High to wear a bandana on her head. Her father, Rickey, shaved his.

The treatments came early in the week. Near the end of them, the 5-4 guard gathered enough strength to play AAU basketball. She drove herself to the gym after her final chemotherapy treatment.

"I'm a ballhead," she said.

The cancer is gone now. The physical reminders are, too. Only when she rolls up her sleeves do you spot the Livestrong armband she wears. But she has a full head of hair and she started the season showing off the skills that have coach David Six gushing about her point guard prowess. Jenkins scored 16 with five assists and was without a turnover in 38 minutes of play when Hampton stunned James Madison in its season opener.

It looked like a start to a magical season, only Jenkins landed awkwardly in Hampton's next game, tripping on the foot of a South Dakota State player. The Lady Pirates were leading when Jenkins got hurt, but went on to lose that game and three of the next four while their point guard sat out.

On Saturday, Jenkins - and Hampton's magic - returned. She scored 17 points, all in the second half, as the Lady Pirates roared past Howard 68-52.
To some, Jenkins' ability to come back so thoroughly may have been a surprise. But it shouldn't have been.
She beat cancer, you see. The ankle was just a tiny bump in the road.

"I take nothing for granted," she said. "The whole cancer thing made me look at life differently. Someone else is always going through something worse than whatever you're going through. Small things."

She doesn't sweat them.

We see why.

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