Treatment can't stop Loyola's Geppi-Aikens

Despite chemotherapy, coach's life as full as ever

College Lacrosse

May 31, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Someday, Loyola College women's lacrosse coach Diane Geppi-Aikens would like to write a book. In the meantime, she plans to spend a lot more time living its chapters.

Until a few weeks ago, Geppi-Aikens hid part of the latest story line from just about everyone. Since her third operation to remove a recurring brain tumor in January, she has been undergoing chemotherapy.

The surgery could not remove every bit of the tumor, so the chemotherapy treatment, which she takes at home in pill form, is battling what remains.

The chemotherapy, however, is not defeating Geppi-Aikens' typically upbeat style. It tires her out more quickly and slows her, but that isn't as difficult as it used to be.

She slowed her mile-a-minute lifestyle after her first operation in 1995, but she still juggles jam-packed days - raising four children, keeping house and handling a more-than-full-time job.

"I live a great life and I enjoy every day. Am I sick some days? Yes. Am I tired some days? Yes. But I'm a single mom with four kids. Right now, all my friends are telling me now I'm a normal person. I get tired like normal people do, but for me I get tired more than I usually would."

Geppi-Aikens, 39, said she kept mum about the chemotherapy to protect her children, ages 8 to 16, and to try to make it through the lacrosse season without having to tell her Loyola players.

But she knew it was only a matter of time before someone spotted her going to the oncology center at Johns Hopkins for her weekly blood tests.

Early this month, she realized word might be getting out. She didn't want her children to hear rumors from and she didn't want her team to find out from players on other teams.

She waited as long as possible - until May 7, two days before the Greyhounds would play Maryland in the NCAA tournament's first round - to tell her players. More than anything, she didn't want it to be an excuse if they lost, which they did.

"My team's used to adversity," she said. "They saw me have some seizures early on in the season at practice. They knew I had emergency pills in my pocket. They knew everything except for the chemotherapy. We lost because we didn't play well, not because my team found out I was on chemotherapy."

Geppi-Aikens has every reason to be upbeat about her future. Her most recent brain scans showed no new growth of the cancer.

Though the nature of her tumor is that it is likely to come back, it might not, said her surgeon, Dr. Henry Brem, chief of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins.

Her cancer has returned twice since the 1995 surgery, most recently in December. She had her third operation on Jan. 29.

"Her tumor seems to have a tendency to be stubborn," said Brem, adding that just because the tumor has returned, doesn't mean it is more aggressive. "This time, it was growing rapidly, but that makes it very vulnerable to the therapies."

"I can live with this treatment and future treatments," Geppi-Aikens said. "If things go well, I should be able to live a long, healthy life. If anybody's going to beat this thing, you know it's going to be me."

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