Former BC star Clare Droesch battles cancer

By Doug Feinberg
AP Basketball Writer / February 17, 2012
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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.—Clare Droesch was fearless on the basketball court as a player at Boston College. Now she's taking that same approach to the challenge of fighting cancer.

It's been nearly two months since the 29-year-old Droesch was diagnosed with breast cancer and she's doing everything she can to beat her latest opponent.

"I'm in this for the long haul," Droesch said Thursday night. "I have cancer, I'm not going to stop living, then cancer wins."

A few days after first feeling something was off, Droesch was playing basketball and her arm brushed up against a lump. She went to have it checked out, thinking it couldn't be anything too serious. Unfortunately, she was wrong as the doctors told her the diagnosis on Dec. 18.

"It was like a bad dream I couldn't wake up from," she said.

She soon entered an experimental trial program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the top cancer treatment and research institutes in the country.

"They found out it had spread to my spine and my hip. Now it's stage IV," Droesch said. "I have an aggressive cancer. My oncologist said we're hoping after six months that this trial worked."

She has good days and bad ones as she's started chemotherapy treatment a few days a week. The doctors told her that next week she'll start losing her hair.

"I feel people lose this battle because they mentally give up. Physically I know it's going to take its toll, but mentally I promise I won't give up. Monday's a `game day' for me," she said. "It's like I'm playing against a new team. It's the days after when I feel the effects."

Thursday was one of those tough days for Droesch. She didn't feel well when she woke up, but there was too much to do to feel sorry for herself. It was senior day at the high school she coaches at in New York. Later that night she was honored at Hofstra as the Pride dedicated their game against No. 10 Delaware to her.

That was the idea of Hofstra guard Nicole Capurso's, who played AAU basketball for Droesch and considers her to be a big sister.

"It's real hard, I never knew someone this close to me with this disease," Capurso said. "She's so young and it's so shocking. How do you help a friend in this situation?"

When Capurso heard the news in late December, she turned to Hofstra coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey for advice. Kilburn-Steveskey unfortunately was no stranger to the disease as her former college coach Kay Yow succumbed to cancer three years ago.

"We all know what coach Yow has meant to women's basketball," Capurso said. "But to see someone not that much older than me go through this really hits home."

Capurso, Kilburn-Steveskey and director of basketball operations Mike Gibson, who was a manager at BC when Droesch played there, came up with honoring her at the game.

The Pride wore pink warm-up shirts that said "Crush Clare's Cancer." They also had on their pink uniforms that are usually worn in honor of Yow as part of the Play4Kay week. Hofstra had to get a waiver from the NCAA allowing them to put this night together for Droesch. That waiver didn't come through until 11 a.m. Wednesday.

"From start to finish we got this together in two weeks," Capurso said. "It really is amazing what people can do. I can't thank athletic director Jack Hayes enough."

All the money raised from Thursday's game will help pay for Droesch's mounting medical bills. While she does have insurance, not all her treatments are covered. Her friends also have organized a benefit for her in early March and set up a Facebook page to help get donations.

"The amount of support I've had has been incredible," Droesch said. "Fordham, here, other places, everyone has been doing so much for me."

Kilburn-Steveskey had Droesch address the team before the game.

"She just talked about winning," Kilburn-Steveskey said. "She didn't talk about cancer, just talked about doing everything you can to win. I see a lot of similarities in her attitude and that of coach Yow."

Like Yow, Droesch has an indomitable spirit. One of Droesch's greatest moments on the court came when her Eagles beat Connecticut in 2004 to take the Big East title. Boston College also beat the Huskies a year later, on Droesch's senior night.

Delaware coach Tina Martin had to coach against Droesch when she was an assistant for Seton Hall and was sad when she heard the news a few days ago.

"My heart goes out to her," she said after her team's 89-79 victory over Hofstra. "We're going to try and raise some money and help her. I don't care if you're a player or coach, the `C' word comes out, it's a devastation you feel. She was a terrific player. She was a nightmare from that standpoint."

Even though they lost, Hofstra guard Candice Bellocchio sees the bigger picture.

"I know my team wanted this one really bad, because it was for a great cause," said Bellocchio, who matched her career high with 21 points. "We dedicated the game to Clare Droesch. She told us she's fighting for her life and that put things in perspective."


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