Honestly, when my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I was oblivious of the magnitude of the situation. At the time, I was in high school and was more concerned with my social circle. I was aware that my mom was sick, but the way my parents portrayed it to me was that she was going to be okay. Initially, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, but my mom wanted to make sure she did everything she could to keep it from coming back, so she decided to have a mastectomy and chemotherapy. She was sick during chemo — but I never would have known because she was always trying to rise above it. After fighting cancer for seven years, however, my mom passed away in 2009.
Outside of the diagnosis, my relationship with my mom was amazing. She was my best friend. I felt like I could do anything because of her faith in me and never felt judged or belittled by her. I knew she had my back and loved me unconditionally. She was always there for me, and always had my best interest at heart. Without fail, my mom put my health and interests above her own. I miss having her in my corner.
Today, I honor her with #PlayforKae. As a volleyball player, who’s headed to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, I always leave everything I have on the court and play without hesitation. And in 2017, I joined the Adidas family, who made it easy and safe for me to express my love and admiration for my mom. I even got the chance to design a shoe in honor of my mom in 2018. It was a special process that I’ll never forget. I’m so blessed to be a part of a company that makes me confident in having a safe place to voice my love for my mom, and gives me the platform to raise awareness towards breast cancer while empowering women who are going through the same struggles.
The experience my family had with my mom battling breast cancer greatly impacted me as an athlete today — in a way that I haven’t been able to fully articulate or understand since she left. While I wish she was still here, I feel that she set me up for success in the time that we did have together. Watching her ability to fight through all the trauma that she endured, it taught me that no matter the outcome of an event, you should never settle. Never settle for mediocrity. Continue to ask questions and continue to push the envelope to be the best you can. While it may rub people the wrong way, you know what you need and how you want to get there. There’s always a solution. I’m grateful those qualities were instilled in me.
Another quality of hers that shaped me was her toughness. I know it was often difficult for her to get out of bed. But I always admired her ability to get up, take a bath and get the day started. It may not have always been at the same time — but she got up, made her bed, and completed the routines that kept her, and all of us, going. She was the hardest worker, and kept our family in order. Whenever I’m having a hard time, I remember that starting the day off with the right mental frame is crucial.
When my mom got really sick towards the end, I had to fly back from the national team and miss a tournament. It didn’t matter to me. I just knew that I needed to be with my mom. As soon as I walked into the hospital room, the first words out of my mom’s mouth were, “Please tell me you are not missing a tournament to be here.” She was my biggest fan, and she knew that my goal was to play in the Olympics. She didn’t want her sickness to get in the way of that. Her constant selfless acts showed me how I wanted to live my life. This is one of the many reasons why I can’t wait to start a family — because I want to share the same traits that my mom instilled in me with my children.
Looking ahead, I’m approaching this journey to the 2020 Olympics with gratefulness and grit. I’m so grateful for all the steps that have gotten me to where I am. I’m a firm believer in “everything happens for a reason.” While I wish my mom was able to witness all that I’ve accomplished, I truly believe that we had to endure hardships for me to be where I am today, and for me to look at life through the lens that I do now.