Out of Leftfield: Heroes among us

What is a hero? This term may call to mind our troops and our firefighters, but how often do we really come in contact with these kinds of people? We respect the heroes who we see on TV and in the papers, but never expect to be inspired by the people that we know and love. Turns out, we need to look no further than the Williams campus to find one of these amazing people.

Kate DeLuca ’03 is smart, funny, athletic, beautiful, a blast to hang with, friendly and one of the most well-liked and respected people on campus. She’s one of the last people that you would expect something bad to happen to. But something bad did happen last April, as a lump the size of a tennis ball in her neck turned out to be a cancerous tumor. Suddenly, the high life was knocked down a few notches.

A year has passed since then, and other than a shorter hairdo, it’s tough to find too much that’s different with Kate. Still has the brains, still has the looks, still has the skills. In fact, she’s pitching better than ever before. So how did a horrible situation turn itself around again?

Back in July, softball wasn’t even close to most people’s radar screen. But the sport was a part of her: an important part ever since the fourth grade. Playing again would be a return to normalcy of some sort, and that’s all that Kate really wanted. Thrust into a surreal world of tests and chemo and radiation, she wanted to again be a joyful college student.

It would be asking a lot of someone to return to a competitive level after suffering through cancer treatments, let alone have the best season of their collegiate career. Quite frankly, if she had gotten lit like a Christmas tree every time she pitched this year it wouldn’t have mattered, because just the fact she was out there was incredible enough. But then again, this is a special person we’re talking about.

So maybe it’s fitting that Kate has resembled a shorter, underhand throwing version of Pedro Martinez this spring. Not only does she lead the team in ERA, but DeLuca, the team’s lone captain, has pitched her best when the team needs her the most. After the team lost to Middlebury in the first game of a doubleheader, Kate shut out the Panthers as the Ephs took the nightcap. A week later, she shut out Hamilton. Then, this past weekend, she stifled Wesleyan and blanked Amherst as the Ephs took the NESCAC West crown.

While her success on the field is more than anyone could have asked for, it has been the courage and heart that Kate has shown off that makes her story even more remarkable. When we were all shedding tears after the terrible news broke, it was Kate who was strong for us. She was as brave as a soldier, meeting the cancer head on with the kind of gallantry that they give people medals for. Did she want us to feel sorry for her, pity her? Not a chance. She was going to beat this thing no matter what it took.

Not that the battle was an easy one – far from easy, actually. Undergoing accelerated chemotherapy treatments (once a week instead of every other week), Kate spent the summer before her senior year sick in bed. There wasn’t a bone or muscle in her body that didn’t ache. Her hair fell out, her blood count went way down and her strength was sapped.

But while the chemo was able to take all that, not once was it able to penetrate her heart and her soul. Whatever broke down physically was made up for ten-fold by her strong-willed mentality. It must have been like living through two months of pure hell, but if there was anyone who could have handled the pain and anguish as well as Kate did, I’d like to shake his hand. Maybe we all should have known from the start: the cancer never had a chance.

Life is grand again, and Kate has certainly earned it. Her team is in the playoffs, Hilton Head and Senior Week are approaching fast and law school probably awaits as well. But most importantly, Kate is healthy and happy. The cancer hasn’t shown its nasty self since July, her blood count is up and her smile seems omnipresent.

Of course, Kate wasn’t the first person to beat cancer. She won’t be the last. So what makes her situation so special?

It’s special because of what this whole mess revealed about her character. It’s special because she reached beyond the limits of courageousness. It’s special because she showed us the depths of human resolve. It’s special because she can be an example for all of us.

Here is a girl who nearly had a promising future snatched away from her. She had death staring her in the eye, but she never blinked. The way she handled her illness should inspire all of us. It can give us hope that we too can show that kind of strength when faced with adversity, that we too can have the heart of a lion when times are toughest.