“She’s one of the toughest kids I know,” said Shawnee coach Mike Gannon. “She worked her tail off to get herself back so she wouldn’t let her teammates down. She’s had a great year and we’ve needed her big time. She’s contributed in a big way. She’s a big part of what we do.”
After receiving chemotherapy and being diagnosed cancer free last fall, Cain worked her way back to the field for her senior season. She played a key role in the Braves run to their first Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championship since 2017.
“It’s nice to be back in the game, be in the celebrations and finally win too,” Cain said.
‘The worst part’
In 2019, Cain earned All-CBC Kenton Trail second-team honors for the Braves. A few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
While working out for her junior season during quarantine, Cain began having several odd symptoms, including pain in her chest and lower body and shortness of breath, but didn’t think anything of it, she said.
In late March, Cain hadn’t left her house in a month, but decided to make a trip to the grocery store. On her way there, she felt a lump on her neck that didn’t feel right.
When she returned home, she immediately told her parents and they took her to have it checked out. After receiving X-rays and a biopsy, she was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer that attacks the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system that helps fight infections and other diseases.
On May 6 of last year, she began four rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, including four 4-day overnight stays at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. At the time, she couldn’t have anyone in the hospital with her due to the pandemic except her mother, Brenda.
“That was probably the worst part,” Cain said.
In August, she was diagnosed cancer free, but wasn’t able to return to the field, especially during the pandemic.
“Having to sit on the bench for a full season isn’t fun, obviously,” Lily Cain said. “Watching everyone play and win and celebrate and have fun, it was tough.”
As the season began, the Shawnee girls soccer program moved forward without one of best players and leaders, Gannon said.
“Her teammates were devastated when I told them,” Gannon said. “We played for her last year.”
The program held a cancer awareness game against West Liberty-Salem last September, which is also Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and Lymphoma Awareness Month. The teams raised more than $500 for the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) oncology program.
About 1 in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 20 and about 20 percent of those children don’t survive, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Early detection was key in Cain’s battle, she said. She wants her story to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer, she said.
“When I felt (the lump), I knew something wasn’t right, that’s not supposed to be there,” Lily Cain said. “It can progress super fast. The moment you see it, you’ve got to tell your parents and make sure you go to the doctor. We caught it super early.”
If caught early, Hodgkin’s lymphoma has about a 95 percent survival rate.
“If we can help one person by telling this story, then it’s worth it,” Brenda Cain said.
In the offseason, Cain began preparing for her senior season. She’d often run at the track with one of her best friends and former teammate, Maddie Deam, to try and her way back into shape.
“I remember I could barely run a 200 (meters),” Cain said.
She returned to the soccer field last spring, playing for Gannon’s club team, Ohio Sting.
“It took me a few games to get back into the groove and get my touch back,” Cain said. “My ankles were really weak. I’d stumble a lot, but I was building up my strength and now I’m back to full (health).”
As Gannon watched Cain get back into shape, he knew she’d be ready for the high school season. Cain took the field for the Braves for the first time in two seasons on Aug. 25, a 5-2 loss to Greenon in their season opener.
“I was super nervous, but it felt good to be back out there,” Lily Cain said. “It was great to be back with my girls, my best friends. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
The Braves finished the regular season 14-2 and 10-0 in the CBC, including a 2-1 victory over Northwestern on Oct. 14 for their ninth straight win. They won the CBC Kenton Trail Division this fall for the first time since 2017 after finishing second the previous three seasons.
“They worked their butts off in the summer and Lily was right in the mix,” Gannon said. “To see them get rewarded for it, to see her get rewarded with what she’s been through and her journey, you can’t put a price on that.”
Defensively, Shawnee held all five of their Kenton Trail opponents scoreless and finished the regular season with seven shutouts. Most importantly, she was happy to be back on the field with her teammates.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Lily Cain said.
Especially the celebrations.