Basketball is the only thing that helps freshmen Darian Winkelbauer get her mind off of things. Whether it is hitting a three pointer or getting on the line for her eighth suicide, her brain is solely focused on basketball.
“Basketball has helped me through everything,” Winklebauer said. “Sometimes I think I just don’t have thyroid cancer when I’m on the court.”
Winklebauer was only 16 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“It was hard to swallow and it felt like someone was stabbing me,” Winkelbauer said. “It was on and off for a while, but then the pain started to happen constantly.”
It was not until Winkelbauer went to her dentist check-up that her dentist told her it was something she should go check out.
The next day, she had a biopsy.
“I thought maybe something was wrong, but not wrong if that makes sense,” Winkelbauer said.
When her mom first told her the results of the biopsy, Winkelbauer recalls crying and feeling shocked.
“It was like, oh, I’m a teenage girl with cancer, like that’s devastating,” Winkelbauer said.
However, when Winkelbauer talked more with her doctors and found out it had almost a 100% survival rate, she felt better.
On Oct. 3, 2019, Winkelbauer had her first surgery to get her whole thyroid removed. After her surgery, she was given medicine that she will have to take every day for the rest of her life.
“The incision on my neck was sore,” Winkelbauer said. “I just wanted to touch it and itch it, but I couldn’t.”
Later on, Winkelbauer had her second surgery to remove over 30 cancerous lymph nodes.
Throughout the constant doctors appointments, check-ups, ultrasounds and even having to be isolated during her radiation treatment for seven days, Winkelbauer noted that the hardest thing was not being able to play basketball during that period.
“I was on the sidelines and I just wanted to go in,” Winkelbauer said.
Winkelbauer still persevered and slowly transitioned back on the court throughout her high school career. Now, she is a current member of Webster’s women’s basketball team.
“She brings a positive vibe to the team, and on the court, she is very competitive,” head coach Jordan Olufson said.
Winkelbauer goes to check ups every three to six months during the year. She gets her blood drawn and an ultrasound to monitor her lymph nodes. Her last appointment was before she left her home in Omaha, Nebraska to come start her college career at Webster University.
“It was hard to leave for college knowing all of my support system was back home, but I knew coming here my team and coach O would be supportive of me,” Winkelbauer said.
Winkelbauer is grateful that she has an outlet like basketball to help her get through this.
“She has a lot of support here on and off the court,” Olufson said.