Jessica Shares Her Story

Written by Sky forward Jessica Breland on July 28, 2014

Allen Sanders, American author and cartoonist, once said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." "Life" happened to me the summer before my senior year at UNC-Chapel Hill. I can remember being in a team meeting during which my basketball coach was going over summer workouts and plans for the upcoming season. Physically, I was present for the meeting, but my mind wandered to all of the things I wanted to do and places I wanted to go before entering my senior year. It had been awhile since I traveled for a reason other than basketball, so I was looking forward to taking a few vacations and simply enjoying life.

Scheduled to tryout for the USA basketball team, I had been working out really hard. I was tired all the time, which I just attributed to the fact that I was working out so much. I also had other symptoms including night sweats, a sore throat, difficulty breathing and chest pains, so I saw a doctor. Approximately one week after the team meeting, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that originates in the white blood cells. I spent the next six months undergoing chemotherapy treatments. I could not have gotten through the process without the support of my family, friends, teammates and fans. I received thousands of cards and letters from fans encouraging me to keep pushing and letting me know that I was in their thoughts and prayers. My niece, Arianna, was born two months prior to the start of my chemotherapy, so I was able to see her crawl for the first time and take her first steps. This was really special to me because I have a lot of nieces and nephews but have missed them growing up because basketball requires me to be away from home for the majority of the year.

I was blessed to get healthy enough to play basketball again as a fifth year senior (2010-2011). It was extremely challenging to regain my muscle mass, conditioning and agility. Walking across campus to my classes was even, at times, physically exhausting, but I continued to push.

Following my senior year, I was drafted into the WNBA. It was a humbling experience because I was quickly reminded how far my level of conditioning had dropped during the chemotherapy treatments. I played my rookie year with New York and Connecticut. A year later, I went to training camp in Washington and was cut from the team. It was then that I realized the transition from college to the professional basketball and process of regaining my stamina was going to be much harder than I thought. Determined to play professionally I persevered. I continued to play overseas and worked on getting stronger. I was fortunate to play with Indiana during the 2013 WNBA season. This year has been absolutely surreal: I signed with the Chicago Sky and was named as an Eastern Conference All Star.

While battling cancer was one of the most challenging things I've ever had to face, I can honestly say that I do not regret the experience because it made me a stronger person. I am blessed to have a platform, with the WNBA, to encourage others who may be facing cancer or any other adversity. On Tuesday, we face the San Antonio Stars on ESPN 2. The game tips off the WNBA's Breast Health Awareness (BHA) Week. Given my experience with cancer, I am very grateful to ESPN and the WNBA for offering us this national stage to inspire individuals, especially women, and let them know that we're in this fight together.

My advice to those facing any challenging situation is to stay faithful, never give up and keep pushing through. Surround yourself with positive, encouraging people and don't allow negativity to infiltrate your mind. As much as we try to plan our lives, sometimes life just throws us a curve ball. Just remember nothing happens to us without reason. I believe that every challenge we face is to make us, and the people around us, better. I realize now that I battled through cancer because other people were depending on me to survive. I tell my story to give them hope. Someone else is depending on your survival story as well. DON'T EVER GIVE UP!