April 22, 2011

Penn State-Abington Coach Fights Cancer with Positive Approach She Imparts on Players

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

Penn State-Abington women's lacrosse coach Deb Andress, diagnosed with cancer in August 2008, said she feels great despite still receiving chemotherapy. She thanks lacrosse for that.

Deb Andress is busy these days. Recent rain in the Delaware Valley seems to have Penn State-Abington making up games every day. On Wednesday, the coach went from teaching kinesiology at the school in the morning, to her game against the College of St. Elizabeth in the afternoon, then immediately up to Doylestown, Pa., where she directs and coaches the OLMC Girls Lacrosse Youth Organization.

Cancer can't slow Deb Andress down. That's not her style.

Andress was diagnosed with a  cancerous brain tumor in August 2008. Twenty months later, Andress said she feels great. She still receives chemotherapy, but doctor's assure her she'll be off it soon.

"The type of cancer I have is very aggressive," Andress said. "They always keep saying I'm going to go off it, but it's better than being hooked up to an IV, taking five pills a day. I have energy. I feel good right now. I'm gonna seize the moment. It's great to be out there and help these kids. A lot of my girls are learning the game. They're having fun and they're liking it."

Andress remained on the sideline for the Nittany Lions, but took a leave of absence from head coaching duties at the fledgling program when the cancer hit -- to avoid the pressure, she said. That didn't work out quite as planned.

"I was there, but I wanted to be silent," Andress said. "I ended up taking over because it's me. I'm so darn passionate about it. I'm crazy."

Passionate is an understatement. Seemingly without pausing for a breath, Andress gushed about the youth team -- her first players are now college players -- praised the growth of lacrosse in the Philadelphia area, and lamented the challenges of starting a program at a commuter school where most kids leave for Happy Valley after two years. PSU-Abington has two seniors and two juniors on its roster.

"We're at the infant stage," Andress said. "Baby steps... I'm going into classes, grabbing kids saying 'You look athletic, how about lacrosse?' Now, I've just got to keep them there."

The Nittany Lions won their first game of the year Wednesday, taking down 15-8 at home. They'd lost their previous eight games by double figures and suffered a 10-2 loss to Wilson on Thursday.

"I have a lot of beginners," Andress said. "And they're doing amazing. Every day I see them getting better and better, but we're going against established programs with juniors and seniors."

Andress has stressed sportsmanship to her team throughout the growing pains, telling them to turn a positive to a negative. Even the refs, she said, have noticed.

That same attitude has helped Andress deal with the chemo.

"It sort of drags on you," she said. "I'm just trying to ignore it. That's my way of fighting it. I work out almost every single day, fight through it. I'm working out the poisons, so to speak."

Andress continues to give back to lacrosse, a sport she's spent more than a quarter of a century supporting. It's not a one-way street. When Andress needed support, the lacrosse community was there for her.

"You know how lacrosse is," Andress said. "I can't count how many thousands of cards, people I didn't even know sending me stuff. There are so many good people in the lacrosse world. It's wonderful. For something horrible that happens to you, something beautiful really came out of it."

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