Monday, October 5, 2015         

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God 'thinks I can handle this'

Hawaii softball star Kelly Majam has thyroid cancer. Undeterred, she expects to be back in the Wahine lineup when the season starts

By Jason Kaneshiro


Though aggravating at the time, Kelly Majam is grateful for that little twinge in her throat.

It was during the Western Athletic Conference softball tournament in May when Majam -- the Rainbow Wahine center fielder and a central figure in UH's run to the Women's College World Series -- noticed a bit of discomfort when swallowing.

The pain subsided during the regionals and WCWS, but on the advice of a team trainer she had the lump checked once she returned home to Pine Valley, Calif.

An appointment with her family doctor led to a referral to a head-and-neck specialist followed by an ominous call back for a return visit.

"I thought they were just going to call me and tell me it was fine and that I was good to go and it was just a cyst or something," Majam said. "But since they called me and told me I need to come back in, I prepared myself for the worst."

Thyroid cancer, her doctor explained, was the source of the pain and her curious lack of energy following the season.

She was told the cancer -- papillary thyroid carcinoma -- is highly treatable and was caught at its earliest stage. Less than a week after the diagnosis, Majam had successful surgery to remove the 1.6 centimeter lump.

Her recovery since the July 27 surgery remains on track to allow her to return to the Wahine lineup this spring, thanks in part to that nagging pain in her neck.

"(Her doctor) said for thyroid cancer you usually don't feel it, it's usually painless," Majam said. "I thank God I did feel pain because I wouldn't have noticed it otherwise."

Other than the 2-inch scar crossing the base of her throat, there's little indication of her recent ordeal, particularly given her buoyant tone during a session with media members outside Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium yesterday when she called her experience "a success story."

The NCAA's reigning home run champion with 30 blasts last spring, Majam is anxious to join the team for fall practice. Although she'll have to monitor her activity while she rebuilds her stamina, she has been cleared to resume exercising.

"I'm good to go," Majam declared.

"I haven't swung a bat in a long time or thrown. I love softball and I love playing. I was really hoping this wouldn't keep me from playing. So I'm really glad I will be able to play in the spring."

The cancer hadn't spread to the lymph nodes and she will undergo radiation treatment in December to eliminate any remnants. She will also be on a lifelong regimen of thyroid hormone replacement medication to compensate for the gland's removal.

The frightening diagnosis was a stunning turn in a summer highlighted by the WCWS berth and a trip to the ESPY awards to represent the Wahine, whose Super Regional win over Alabama drew a nomination for "Best Upset."

Through the trials, Majam -- who redshirted her first year at UH due to a knee injury -- has leaned on her faith and sees her newfound visibility in the community as perhaps a chance to serve as an example for others dealing with adversity.

"I praise God through all of it and I know he has a plan through everything and this is just one of those things that happens," Majam said.

"I definitely felt a little bit of 'Why me? Why am I doing this?,' but also that God uses us all for a purpose and he gives us all things he knows we can handle. And he thinks I can handle this and we've gotten through it."

Majam is eager to embark on her fall semester classes starting Monday and prepare for a follow-up to a remarkable freshman season in which she hit .400, set the school's single-season home run record and earned Western Athletic Conference freshman of the year honors.

UH head coach Bob Coolen was on his annual summer recruiting tour of Southern California when Majam's mother informed him of the diagnosis. Now that she's progressing in her recovery, Coolen expects to write her name onto the lineup sheet when the new season opens in the spring.

"She is so much into her faith, she just believes it's another hurdle in her life, another challenge to be overcome," Coolen said.

"I know Kelly won't want sympathy, she won't want to be given anything she doesn't deserve to have, and I know she'll earn everything. She's our starting center fielder and she doesn't want to give that up. She's our leadoff hitter and she doesn't want to give that up."

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