After breast cancer at 21, she is now healthy and a coach

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Alexis Howerin was 21 and a freshman at Wesley College when she was shaken by the news that her life was suddenly in danger.

Three months earlier, standing on the field before a Wesley field hockey home game, she had detected a curious lump in her right breast. Howerin even told a teammate about it.

The Caesar Rodney High graduate quickly sought a medical explanation, although some insurance issues initially caused delays. She eventually underwent a series of biopsies, ultrasounds and a lumpectomy which led to a terrifying verdict.

On January 31, 2020, Howerin was notified that she had stage 2 breast cancer.

“Me being 21, breast cancer not running in my family, having no idea what’s going to happen next, I looked at my mom and just started bawling,” Howerin said, now 23, on a recent afternoon.

“I thought my life was over. It was crazy. I was like ‘I’m done. My life is over. I was so in shock. “I will not arrive there.” A junior in college, just starting my spring semester, had so much going for me. I was like, ‘Everything is falling apart now.’ ”

The median age of breast cancer diagnosis in women is 63, according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s risk of breast cancer increases with age – by 0.49% (30 years); 1.55% (40 years); 2.4% (50 years); 3.54% (60 years); at 4.09% (70 years).

According to statistics, a 20-year-old has only a 1 in 1,732 or 0.06% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer within the next 10 years.

But Howerin found herself in that tiny minority with some serious decisions to make.

Howerin quickly shook off the pity that had initially overwhelmed her and set about developing a winning strategy, her mother, Becky, said. When she started a GoFundMe page to help cover Alexis’ medical bills, her sister Cassetty wrote, “Alexis’ courage assures me she will be a winner.”

Alexis opted to have a double mastectomy, an extremely difficult but preventative decision based on evidence of cancerous cells in other areas.

She then participated in the University of Pennsylvania Hospital’s cryopreservation program in which a woman’s unfertilized eggs are frozen. This ruled her out 20 weeks of chemotherapy, which can harm a woman’s fertility, followed by radiation therapy.

Two years later, Howerin is healthy and cancer-free, although she still needs regular tests and medication. She graduated from Wesley last year and is in her first year teaching physical education at Caesar Rodney, where Howerin played field hockey and softball before graduating in 2017. She is an assistant field hockey coach with the Riders.

Now her mission is to remind young women to beware of breast cancer, which, as she has learned, does not limit its sinister reach.

Howerin certainly got that message across in October 2020. Her Pledge 100 challenge led players from 44 field hockey teams across the country to run and/or walk 100 miles that month to raise breast cancer awareness. It was fed on social media with the hashtag #LexStrong.

Thanks to his efforts, Howerin is the 2021 recipient of the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association Buddy Hurlock Unsung Hero Award. The Hurlock Award honors the News Journal sportswriter who died of a brain tumor aged 40 in 2012. It celebrates someone who fought through adversity while setting an example for others.

Howerin will be recognized at the DSBA Awards Luncheon on February 21, President’s Day, at the Du Pont Country Club, where the 73rd Annual John J. Brady Award will be presented to the 2021 Athlete of the Year Award from the Delaware.

Also honored will be Herm Reitzes Public Service Award recipient, Delmar High Field Hockey’s 2021 Team of the Year, and Tubby Raymond Award winner as Delaware’s 2021 Coach of the Year Nancy Griskowitz of the St. Mark’s Volleyball.

“If I can share life-saving information, I will speak about it every day if I have to,” Howerin said. “I will talk about it endlessly.

“Cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how young you are. It doesn’t matter if you have children. It doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of school. It’s a huge thing and you see it more often where young people are being diagnosed.

Wesley has put together a four-part video series called “The Unthinkable – Alexis Howerin’s Road to Recovery”, which chronicles his experiences.

Receiving that initial diagnosis had been “heartbreaking,” Becky Howerin said.

“But we took a day and got together and she said, ‘We’re going to fight head-on. She grabbed him by the horns and we left.


Tracey Short, who coached Wesley in field hockey for 26 seasons before the school closed last year after being bought by Delaware State University, said Howerin “amazes me every day ” with his determination and positive attitude.

“She was trying to be normal,” said Short, who now teaches at Woodbridge High, “and the fight inside her is normal, whether she’s on the field or in a classroom. She’s working to be the best she can be. .

“So when that happened and they diagnosed her, she was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to use everything I’ve done my whole life and I’m going to fight. She was so strong and it was so motivating for so many people.

Howerin underwent his bilateral mastectomy on March 18, 2020. It was the week the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and caused schools and businesses to close.

“I was the only one in the waiting room,” Becky Howerin said. “There was no one else.”

“I went home the same evening,” said Alexis, referring to her operation at the Kent campus of Bayhealth Hospital in Dover, where she lives. “They pushed me with all the drugs possible to get my pain tolerance under control. I was throwing up my guts.

At home, her mother was her caregiver. While recovering, Howerin made the decision to delay chemotherapy until she could participate in Penn Fertility Care’s egg retrieval and storage process.

“I want nothing more than to be a mother one day,” she said. “Many women with breast cancer already have children or have chosen not to have them. These (eggs) are in storage and hopefully, if I should go down this path, they will help me succeed in becoming a mother.

In April 2020, Howerin began chemotherapy with four twice-weekly transfusions of doxorubicin, which cancer patients have come to call “the red devil” due to its color and nasty side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. which Howerin experienced. Then there was 12 weeks of chemotherapy with the drug taxol, when Howerin lost her hair and “slept for days”, she said.

Due to the pandemic, Howerin’s recovery often had to be a solo trip, except when she was home with her mother and father, John. But during hospital visits for treatment, Becky sat outside and stayed with Alexis on Facetime.

Throughout the spring and summer, Howerin was able to continue doing his homework virtually and keep pace to graduate in 2021. By July, Howerin was feeling well enough to join his teammates Wesley for a few field hockey games. turf at the DE Turf Sports Complex near Frederica.

“It gave me peace,” she said. “I found so much peace on this pitch. My team and my coach and the people around me, just supportive, kept me going.

“It’s hard because when you go through that, how do you find the good inside?” Every day is something bad. And as soon as your mind falters, that’s when people fall into a slump that they can’t get out of and it’s just a constant cycle, and I didn’t want to fall into that because I have so much life and so many dreams to live. Being in the field, I was like, ‘I can do this.’ ”

Another claim came in the fall of 2020, when Howerin taught his student at Sunnyside Elementary School in Smyrna. In November, she endured 23 days of radiotherapy, going to the hospital every morning before school started. At the end of each day, “I was exhausted,” she said.

By then, her 100-mile challenge had resonated with young women far beyond the Dover area and the Wesley Conference, the Eastern Atlantic, in which field hockey teams have competed. quickly joined in the effort.

That’s because Howerin’s spell gave the others “purpose,” Short said.

“When it comes home,” the former coach said, “everyone in his heart needs to be helpful, he wants to be helpful. My team was so close and doing so many things together, when Lex announced (that she had cancer), the whole team was devastated.

When so many athletes and teams joined the 100 mile challenge, Short added: “It was very touching and very helpful for Lex to see that what she was talking about was connecting with so many people that she will never even know.”

Wesley’s 2020 fall season was canceled due to COVID-19, as were many college athletic schedules. But the Wolverines played an abbreviated schedule in the spring of 2021, and Howerin was back on the field, stick in hand and a huge sense of relief and satisfaction in his heart.

“It was like a reward,” she said. “I made it and that’s what I got out of it. I was honored to be able to play.”

She still has wishes, mainly that she will continue to be cancer-free and that other young women can avoid the hardships she has endured.

Howerin did not fall into any of the typical cancer risk categories of age, genetics, or lifestyle, leaving only environment, although she could not distinguish any discernible factor there either.

This is why she insists that more research be done, especially on how someone as young as she can be afflicted.,

“I don’t want what I’ve been through to define me,” she said. “I got past that. I’m living my dreams right now and that’s really all that matters.

About Hubert Lee

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