After her third round of chemotherapy, the hospital doctors had some unfortunate news to share with Lexe Selman-Richards and family. The cancer fight was over.
“The doctors told my parents to say goodbye and that I wasn’t going to make it,” Selman-Richards said.
Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia cancer at the age of 17, Selman-Richards would not give up. Just months away from beginning her freshman soccer campaign at the UA, the dream was thrown out the door. She would just keeping telling herself: “I can do hard things.”
“My mom used to whisper it to me when I was in the ICU basically on my death bed,” Selman-Richards said. “She just kept telling me, ‘you can do hard things.’”
Four rounds of chemotherapy total would be the difference as Selman-Richards now approaches five years of being cancer-free in May. She still remembers that routine checkup on April 20.
“The day before I had gone in for a doctor’s appointment to see if I was immune to chicken pox,” Selman-Richards said. “I just did a blood test.”
The blood came back with abnormal levels, prompting doctors to send her to the hospital. A few hours later around 3 p.m. she was notified of the cancer diagnosis.
“You get two seconds to digest it,” Selman-Richards said. “It was very surreal. I was going to start soccer for the UA that July. I was so active that I thought it can’t be me. I knew right away that it was going to be a battle.”
Soccer came easy to Selman-Richards. The Draper, Utah native played club soccer for 11 years and committed to the UA during her junior year of high school.
“I can remember starting as a kid when everybody was in the huddle, I just had to be the person to lead the huddle,” Selman-Richards said. “I loved scoring.”
Tucson would be her choice after an unofficial visit. When the diagnosis came, Arizona repeatedly said they would not give up on her.
“Greg Byrne called her father and assured her that she had a place and her scholarship was going to be there,” said Benjamin Richards, Lexe’s husband. “She feels indebted to Arizona soccer because they had her back when she really needed it. She spent four years in the program giving back and playing hard and doing the hard things. Being a quiet leader.”
Appearing in 61 total matches, she finished with four goals and five assists. She even managed to score the first goal of the season this year and leave the UA as a member of the winningest senior class in UA history.
Most recently, she was named the Giant Steps Award Winner by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. She first heard of the award from CATS Academics counselor Jennifer Mewes. The award honors a student-athlete who overcame obstacles and made outstanding achievements in athletics.
“One day, I was just chilling in biochemistry and I found out I was one of three finalists,” Selman-Richards said. “She called me and said congrats and that I had won. I didn’t really understand the merit of this award. I feel really honored to have won it.”
For Selman-Richards, the honor represents all those who are still fighting their own cancer battles.
“It helps me with all I’ve been through,” Selman-Richards said. “I had a lot of friends when I was going through treatment. One of the last ones who was still fighting actually passed away in October this past season. Winning this award makes me think of them and how much they helped me get here. I just want to be an example to all those fighting cancer that they can make it.”
Benjamin Richards said that Selman-Richards is approached often about speaking to families whose children were recently diagnosed with cancer.
“She will get a phone call or a message every couple months from somebody who has a child who recently was diagnosed with cancer,” Benjamin Richards said. “She is always willing to talk with the parents and go meet them in person. While she does downplay her experience, the empathy she demonstrates toward others shows you how big of a challenge it was in her life.”
With the diagnosis came more and more perspective. The little things just didn’t matter anymore.
“I don’t get caught up in the little things as much,” Selman-Richards said. “Some things really are small and don’t matter in the big picture.”
One thing that does matter is the support system she received throughout her fight and collegiate soccer career. While in the hospital, she received visits from her club team, coaches from the UA, neighbors, friends, extended family and everybody in between.
“I knew I needed to focus on getting better,” Selman-Richards said. “Soccer would come back, but I was in the fight for my life.”
While soccer has brought good memories, it has also brought pain. Like in the first 12 minutes of her junior season when Selman-Richards tore her ACL.
“She lives by [doing hard things],” said senior teammate Hannah Stevens. “Especially going through her ACL injury, which is a huge thing to go through as a female soccer player. She just went through it so quick and with a good attitude, especially after everything else she has gone through in life.”
It’s what has allowed her to serve as a mentor to the two freshmen who tore their ACL this past season.
“I was just trying to be an example,” Selman-Richards said. “It’s one thing to talk, and then it’s another thing to watch someone come back from an ACL injury and play. I just think about how far I’ve come.”
From meeting NBA eight-time All Star Steve Nash in the hospital to sharing her Make a Wish in Hawaii with her family, Selman-Richards feels lucky to have overcome so many difficult obstacles.
“I think what’s great about her is that she doesn’t feel like she is special in any way,” Benjamin Richards said. “She feels lucky, but she looks back at the people who were fighting cancer at the same time, and in some ways, she feels almost like undeserving. They had just the same right to live as her.”
For Selman-Richards, her future may not include soccer anymore, but it will surely include more trials and tribulations. The whispers will continue. Hard things await.
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