Just as she dreamed as far back as when she was seven years old and became a Missouri State volleyball fan, Jaycee Fixsen will play for the Lady Bears.
Fixsen has looked forward to suiting up for MSU since committing to the Lady Bears two years ago, the summer prior to her junior year at Nixa.
Her plans never changed, even upon being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma on Feb. 28 of this year and undergoing chemo treatments. All the while, she had every intent of being at the net and along the back row with her new teammates as soon as this year.
“When I was diagnosed, I told my doctor, ‘I don’t care what I have to do, I want to play volleyball in the fall,’” Fixsen said. “I was already planning on playing. In my head, I was set on that.”
Fixsen indeed is due to make her college debut at the MSU Mary Jo Wynn Invitational on Aug. 26, after ringing a celebratory bell at the Springfield Mercy Clinic last month signifying the completion of her cancer treatments.
“It felt as if I could move on with my life,” she said of the bell-ringing.
The reward of beginning her college career certainly provided Fixsen plenty of motivation.
“Volleyball means so much to me,” she said. “That’s why I think my body recovered so well.”
Looking back on the past four-plus months, Fixsen went through the full gamut of emotions.
Initially, there was a bit of denial.
“I had lumps on my neck. I had felt them there. But I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Fixsen said. “For Valentine’s Day, my Mom bought me a full-body massage. As (the masseuse) was touching them, she told me that I might want to get them checked out. I went to a doctor and in a span of a week I was in Memphis (for treatments). It was so fast.”
Naturally, Fixsen repeatedly asked herself, ‘Why me?’
“I’ve been frustrated by the ‘Why’ factor of the whole thing,” she said. “We haven’t had anything like this in our family. (The doctors) told me sometimes it just happens. That’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s easier when there is clarity for why things happening. But when there is no explanation it’s harder. There was no reason behind it. It came out of nowhere.”
Fixsen graduated from Nixa in the winter and got a head start on college life by beginning classes at MSU in January. Upon starting Stage Three intermediate chemo treatments, she slowed her schedule considerably.
“I kept two on-line classes and moved back home,” Fixsen said.
As someone accustomed to being on the go, she struggled at times to keep her spirits up.
“The first month was the hardest because I was not in the right state of mind,” Fixsen said. “I was going downhill. I think now about what was going on in my mind. I had so many emotions. I felt every emotion. I was sad because I missed volleyball so much. I watched game film from every single one of our games because that was the closest thing I could get (to playing).”
As news spread of Fixsen’s diagnosis, she received an outpouring of support from the southwest Missouri volleyball community. She struggled with the attention, before turning the energy of others into motivation.
“In the beginning, I didn’t see where other people were coming from,” Fixsen said. “It wasn’t that I was ungrateful. I just didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wanted to stay humble and didn’t want any attention because I didn’t think I deserved it. Also, I thought, ‘No one else understands,’ and I didn’t want to hear any positivity.
“I have the best support system with my family and friends,” she added. “I had people in my corner 100 percent. I had my friends help me get my mind off of things. One of people who helped me get through this the most was my trainer at MSU, Shannon Derricks. He’s one of the reasons I’m same. All my coaches have been so supportive.”
Fixsen’s comeback also gained immeasurable strength the more active she was able to be.
“It was hard not to be able to do anything,” she said. “Once I started working out again, that brought my energy back up. Working out gave me something to focus on.”
Fixsen’s focus has also been on Josie Orellana, a sophomore volleyball player for Ozark. Fixsen’s mother works with Orellana’s mother at Mercy.
Like Fixsen, Orellana is an outside hitter. Also, like Fixsen, Orellana has been diagnosed with cancer and is receiving treatments at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Fixsen is hoping to inspire Orellana any way she can.
“I visited her in Memphis and I could tell her energy was down,” Fixsen said. “It’s hard. I know exactly how she feels. She loves the game as much as I do. I know how it feels to get it ripped away from you in a span of seconds. I’ve told her if she ever needs to rant to call me because I understand, that ‘I know exactly how you feel.’
“I text her all the time to let her know I’m thinking about her. Even when I’m playing, I’m thinking about her,” Fixsen added. “I want her to know she has 100 percent support from me for anything and I can show her it’s possible to persevere through this.”
A pre-med major, Fixsen looks ahead and realizes she could endure a cancer recurrence.
“There is always the possibility of it coming back, as there is with any cancer,” she said. “Every four months I will go back for a check-up. If there is nothing after five years, it’s pretty certain it’s not coming back. But you never know. In my old age, I could have it again. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but there’s always that chance.”
Even if she is able to stay cancer-free, Fixsen will be in tune with those who are struck with cancer.
“It’s in the past. But I don’t want to forget about it,” she said. “I need to share with people my story. You can get through it and continue on with your life. It’s not the end.”
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