By GREG MENGELT
NEW ALBANY —
New Albany senior Sydney Michell has been living with illness more than half of her life.
It hasn’t stolen her joy.
After living with Crohn’s Disease since she was 8 years old, Michell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a form of leukemia — in December. The oversized lymph nodes were discovered while she was having surgery for complications from Crohn’s, a disease that inflames the bowels and the gastrointestinal tract.
The diagnosis and ensuing rounds of chemotherapy have barely slowed the Bulldogs’ softball star.
“This is a girl that through all that she’s [been through], she always has a smile on her face,” New Albany coach Steve Belden explained. “She doesn’t expect any special treatment. She’ll have chemo treatment, then be at a game or practice. Her actions are of a team leader — and she doesn’t have to say a word.
“She’s my attitude adjuster. She puts everything in perspective for me.”
Michell has spent most of the season on the junior varsity team, while regaining her strength. Michell, who also is a standout student and cheerleader, is expected to make a full recovery and she hopes to contribute to the varsity by sectional time in about a month.
New Albany has been on fire of late, and Michell and the Bulldogs hope to compete for their first sectional championship since 2004.
“She hasn’t been able to put as much time and effort as most girls have on a year-round basis,” Belden said. “She hasn’t been able to play at her best physically, but she will be a big reason why we contend this year.”
On Tuesday, the New Albany softball team wore purple and lime green uniforms during the Bulldogs’ 3-0 win over Providence to show its support for Michell. The purple represented the battle against Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the lime green represents the fight against leukemia.
Before the game, Michell spent a few minutes with the News and Tribune for a one-on-one conversation. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
QUESTION: How’s your season going for you personally?
MICHELL: “It’s going a lot better than I thought it would be. I’m just going to keep pushing through it. I’m glad I can actually play. I didn’t think I was going to be able to. It’s going as good as it can go.”
Q: At the time you found out about your latest medical issue, you didn’t think you were going to be able to play softball your senior year, correct?
MICHELL: “That was one of the things that upset me the most. I was [worried] I wasn’t going to be able to play softball and it’s my senior year. That was one thing I wanted to do, to finish it out. I was afraid I wasn’t going to get to play my senior season after playing since I was little. That would have been tough. I’ve pushed through it and it’s been easy with my teammates supporting me.”
Q: Tell me about Crohn’s. How does that affect you?
MICHELL: “At first, it made me really sick, but it’s gotten easier to handle. It just takes a lot to get through it.”
Q: So that’s something that stays with you?
MICHELL: “Yeah, I’ll have it the rest of my life. I actually had surgery on it and that’s when they found the cancer over Christmas. It’s been gone awhile, but it’s not something that’s not going to come back.”
Q: What was your first reaction when you were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s?
MICHELL: “I couldn’t really do anything but sit there and stare when I found out. I was in so much shock. There was a lot of tears with it. But with the support of my family and friends, it made it easier to relax and realize everything was going to be OK. It’s a small part in my life that I’m going to have to get through. It can be worked through and it will be over with soon.”
Q: So you’re expecting a full recovery?
MICHELL: “Oh yeah. They say it’s 99 percent rate that it’s going to be gone.”
Q: What’s the next step in the process?
MICHELL: “I get chemo every two weeks. I have to do that for four months, I think. If it’s gone, I have to do two more months and that will be the end of it.”
Q: How has it affected you as far as softball?
MICHELL: “At first, I didn’t think I was going to be able to come back as strong as I was before. It did take a lot of time, but I think I’m getting back. It slowed me down at first, but I think I’m getting through it. It seems to be getting a lot better.”
Q: Has spending time on the junior varsity been good for you?
MICHELL: “Yeah, I think it’s a good thing because ... I’m mean, yes, I’d like to be playing on the varsity. But if I’m not at my best yet, I don’t want to be hurting them. I would hate to cause [a loss] and know that it was because I wasn’t ready yet. I’d rather be comfortable and play with the junior varsity and get ready to play varsity.”
Q: By sectional time, do you hope to be a full contributor?
MICHELL: “Yeah, I hope so.”
Q: What are your feelings about the purple and green day in support of you?
MICHELL: “People go through stuff and knowing that everyone supports me, it actually means a lot. I’m glad to be a part of it, knowing that they’re doing this for me. It means so much for me. It’s overwhelming, but I’m glad I have the support I do.”
Q: How good can you guys be? How much can you accomplish as a team?
MICHELL: “When we have our heads together, we’re a pretty strong team. I think we can accomplish a lot.”
Q: Floyd Central beat you 2-1 this season. Is that a team you’re capable of beating in the tournament?
MICHELL: “Both teams put up a battle that game. It was one home run [that Floyd’s Taylor Batliner hit] that we couldn’t come back from. When conference and sectional comes around, I think we can win it.”