For three months, Lisa Panici was living on this campus carefree. Her worries were nothing out of the ordinary for a freshman in college. She had tests to study for, and homework to finish, while also trying to balance the rigors that come with playing a collegiate sport.
Things looked promising for her, until one day when her worries became greater. They weren’t just about a volleyball match or a midterm anymore.
The early stages
After experiencing headaches toward the end of the volleyball season in the fall, Lisa thought it was just something normal that would eventually go away.
“I went through so many bottles of Excedrin,” Lisa said. “I had to go to volleyball practice, and I couldn’t miss any classes. I thought it was just stress.”
Mike Panici, her father, said she got through her finals and when winter break came, the headaches were on-and-off. However, one day, she was rushed to the emergency room.
“Monday, the day she was supposed to go back to school in [January], she didn’t feel well so I came back home [from work],” Mike said. “I found her sleeping in the bathroom on the floor. She couldn’t get her head up and couldn’t get anything in her system so she was getting dehydrated.”
Once they got to the hospital, doctors gave her a CT scan. After the results came back, the doctors had bad news.
“The door opens and two physicians walk in and they wheel in chairs, and from there we knew it wasn’t going to be good,” Mike said. “I think you go into two modes here. My wife Mary went into ‘mom mode,’ while I went into ‘OK, I got to fix it mode.’”
The physicians told Mike and Mary they had found a mass in Lisa’s brain the size of a lemon, and that they thought it was a tumor. Lisa, who at the time was on medications, didn’t quite understand what the physicians were talking about.
“At some point, the short-term memory loss has been a blessing,” Mike said. “She knew she had a tumor, but couldn’t comprehend why, and was laughing and making jokes.”
Because the tumor was growing recklessly, immediate surgery was required. Although the surgery went well, the tumor spread out to other parts of the brain.
A couple weeks after surgery, the doctors realized the tumor was cancerous, and was already pronounced stage four. Stage four is the worst stage in any cancer and immediate treatment is needed.
“I was shocked,” Lisa said. “I asked if they were sure I had that in my brain because nobody wants to hear that. I’m trying to stay optimistic about it. I haven’t gotten very down or depressed about it yet.”
Once Lisa regained her motor skills from the surgery, she completed her first round of chemotherapy, which lasted six weeks.
“She did very well,” Mike said. “She has had physical therapy almost every day. She had to start to learn how to walk, learn how to climb stairs or even grabbing a dice or read a book again, because she has difficulties controlling both eyes right now.”
While Lisa said the treatment hasn’t been treacherous, the side effects have been.
“It was easy because I just took two pills every night, one for anti-nausea and the second one was chemo,” Lisa said. “I was in the shower and hair just started falling out and it sucked. I started to lose all of my hair.”
Mike said they are currently in waiting mode, and have a scheduled appointment next week. Doctors will then take pictures to see how effective the surgery was and if the chemo is working.
As one of the side effects of the surgery, Lisa has dealt with short-term memory loss.
She will continue to go through chemotherapy while regaining her strength.
“I have to go through chemo, then days off, then chemo and days off,” Lisa said. “And I will start physical therapy on my left side [of the body]. It’s a specific therapy place that deals with things like this. It will be nice. When I start there, I will be going three to four hours a day.”
In the meantime, Lisa is trying to maintain a positive attitude.
“It’s fine with me, because I’m used to hard work,” Lisa said. “I mean, yeah it sucks, but it happened to me. I’ll get over it. I will prove this thing wrong and I will be fine. Hopefully I will come back to UW-Whitewater and be running laps and stuff,” she said with a laugh.
Freshmen Heidi Buss and Lauren Grant, teammates of Lisa, are still in disbelief after hearing of Lisa’s condition.
“For me, it was shocking,” Buss said. “She is 18 years old and the fact that a girl like your sister to have something terrible happen to her, I just wonder why her?”
They also praised Lisa’s bubbly personality.
“Lisa is the happiest person you will ever meet in your lifetime,” Grant said.
“She is full of life all the time, is never down, and is just a crazy girl in general,” Buss added.
Because Lisa has such a close bond with her teammates, they have been doing as much as they can to help.
“We have been making a bunch of signs and posters for her for the benefit, got T-shirts and bracelets [made] so we will be selling those,” Buss said.
The benefit game will be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Elmhurst College in the Kris Russell Volleyball Arena.
So far, the volleyball team has raised almost $1,000.
“Were trying to do as much as we can to try to raise money for her family,” head volleyball coach Stacy Boudreau said. “Those medical bills are very expensive and it gives the girls to be able to do something for Lisa.”
The family and school will have T-shirts, wristbands and other donation opportunities that will go toward Lisa and her medical bills.
Because Lisa is feeling strong enough right now, Mike said she will attend the benefit game.
“We were just going to come up for the game, because it was a good fit,” Mike said. “Now she is feeling better and is stronger and the fact that this is going on, it’s really hard to put into words.”
Lisa is excited for the benefit but said it will be emotional.
“I’m excited but it’ll be hard,” she said. “ I’ll probably choke up a bit.”