She plays while her tumor sits


September 25, 2006|By MILTON KENT

So many things in a teenager's life come and go quickly, from the style of clothes they wear to the music they listen to, to the very device they listen to the music through (hello, iPod; goodbye, portable CD player) that it's hard to know what is permanent and what is fleeting.

That's not the case for Western Tech senior Amanda Finnigan and volleyball. The bond between them is real and true and runs deep, deeper probably than anyone could imagine.

It's not one-sided, either. While Finnigan has given the sport her best, volleyball has given her a refuge in a time of illness.

"I have control in volleyball and since I kind of haven't had control of my life the last two years, it's something that I dedicate all my time to," Finnigan said. "I take it really seriously, maybe too seriously at times."

Finnigan takes volleyball so seriously, in fact, that she has put off surgery to remove a tumor on her pituitary gland, surgery that would alleviate the constant nausea and memory loss and flagging eyesight, to keep playing.

It's a commitment no one outside Amanda Finnigan's skin could - or perhaps would want to - understand.

"I know that a lot of what has brought her to school on those days when she doesn't feel like getting up is that we have a game," Western Tech coach Eric Jett said. "And she says, a lot of times - not all the time - when she's playing, everything else goes away. She doesn't feel sick and nothing hurts and she can just play and have a good time."

In clinical terms, Finnigan has an adenoma of the pituitary, the pea-sized gland in the center of the brain that makes hormones that affect growth and other functions of glands, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Donna Finnigan, Amanda's mother, said her daughter, the third of her four children, began to complain last September of fatigue and that her hair was falling out.

At first, Donna Finnigan thought Amanda's complaints were just the stuff that kids do. But by December, when the hair loss became "extreme" and Amanda, a kid who always went out in the winter without a coat, began to complain about being cold, Donna Finnigan figured it was time to act.

So, they went to Amanda's pediatrician, who began tests to rule out mononucleosis or a problem with the thyroid. One of the blood tests showed that one of the hormones secreted by the pituitary was abnormally low, and so the pediatrician ordered a magnetic resonance imaging test for fear that the cause was a tumor.

The fears were realized when the MRI indicated a tumor, Donna Finnigan said, but Amanda caught a few breaks.

First, the tumor is benign and small, less than 10 millimeters, Donna Finnigan said. Next, it was found relatively soon, which is not often the case with pituitary adenomas, which gave them options, mainly over when to have surgery to remove the tumor.

In other words, there was no need to rush, and Amanda, a setter and weak-side hitter who has played lacrosse and club volleyball, was in no rush to have surgery that would cut into her playing time.

Donna Finnigan, who teaches pre-kindergarten at Christ Lutheran Nursery School downtown, said she was inclined to let Amanda keep playing.

"I figured she had been sick long enough that if she wanted to wait, she could," Donna Finnigan said. "And she's lucky because they found it early, she has the ability to wait. A lot of times, they find them [tumors] and they're so big and they're pressed on the optic nerve or it affects other parts of the body, [and] you can't wait.

"Well, she's able to wait. She's been a very tough kid."

Indeed, Amanda has had to be tough. She said the constant nausea is just as often a wake-up call as any alarm clock. She vomits frequently during the day, and her memory and eyesight have suffered. And she frequently has to run to the restroom during matches to run hot water over her hands so that she can set the ball.

"Everything has been turned into focusing on the volleyball," Amanda said. "I think I've just grown up a lot. I don't care about little things anymore, like stupid drama in high school. I haven't dealt with that for the past two years. I stay away from that, and I appreciate a lot of stuff that a lot of people don't appreciate. I really miss being able to get up in the morning and feel good. I haven't felt good playing in so long."

Of course, in Amanda's case, there is an end to all of this, namely a non-invasive surgery that could have her out of a hospital the next day with a monthlong recovery time. And that relief is right there as soon as she wants it.

The thing is, despite the cajoling from her boyfriend, from a sister who thinks she's "crazy" and the inability of some of her coaches to understand that she usually "feels like crap," Amanda is just not ready to call a halt to volleyball. Not just yet at least.

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