Danielle O'Banion just finished her fifth chemotherapy treatment to beat back stage 2 lymphoma. She has one remaining in the second week of March, and "to be honest, I'm hoping for a really busy week."
If things go as the Kent State coach hopes, her team will have advanced out of the first round of the Mid-American Conference tournament and will be moving on to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the later rounds.
The lymphoma was diagnosed in November, when O'Banion had an outpatient procedure for another medical issue entirely.
"When they called me to tell me it was cancer, I thought, 'Wait, I went in for something else.' I wasn't symptomatic at all," she said. "But I feel really fortunate that they caught it really early."
O'Banion waited more than two weeks to tell her team, until she had talked it through with her coaching staff and made a treatment plan with her oncologist.
"Our players have young hearts and young minds, and I didn't want them any more disrupted than necessary," O'Banion said.
And through her third season as the Golden Flashes' head coach, O'Banion has made good on her vow to keep the distractions to a minimum. She kept her team away from the media initially and asked opposing teams not to mention her diagnosis or do any kind of tributes.
"I didn't want this to be a made-for-TV movie," O'Banion said. "It's hard enough to focus every day. I didn't want the 'Do it for the Gipper' storyline on top of everything else."
Kent State, which has eight freshmen and sophomores on the roster, is struggling through a 4-20 season and 2-11 record in league play.
O'Banion has not missed a game this season, and she misses practice only on days when she has chemotherapy treatments. O'Banion has lost her hair but said she has experienced minimal side effects, though fatigue is starting to set in.
"For a while, I couldn't tell if it was basketball season or the chemo," O'Banion said. "I take a few more naps and it's difficult to watch film for hours on end without taking a break. I feel fortunate."
And she feels that she has been able to "walk the walk" with her team.
"This is our third year here, and I felt like this is a pivotal year," O'Banion said. "My best medicine is to work with our team. As coaches, we tell our players it's important to be tough and resilient and prioritize and stay focused. I want to be a role model for that.
"The biggest thing for me has been keeping my team first and not letting them down. But I've also had an opportunity to show them how to manage challenges."
O'Banion has felt strong support in the Kent State community and has found herself a sounding board for others going through similar experiences. Just recently, a mother whose pregnant daughter has lymphoma reached out via email after seeing O'Banion profiled in a news story.
"She emailed me because they don't really have anyone else to talk to," O'Banion said. "That's really tough. ...
"Now I am connected to them. Not every person has a support network. I have had our community and our team and people around me. It's been a really good perspective check for me. And for our team."