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Campus Rallies to Support Women’s Soccer Coach’s Fight Against Cancer

October 6, 2015

RHIT Womens Soccer Helliwell 16399

Positive Attitude: Women’s soccer coach Amy Helliwell, who is battling grey matter cancer, showcases the red bracelet with the statement “Cancer Messed With The Wrong Team – We Are Rose.” This year’s team has also adopted the three-word theme: Trust. Persistence. Attitude.

With support from her team and the campus community, women’s soccer coach Amy Helliwell is striving for victories on the pitch and in her courageous battle against one of the rarest forms of brain cancer.

The 41-year-old is in the midst of extensive treatments for grey matter cancer, a form of cancerous tumor found in the frontal lobe of her brain. This cancer made its first appearance in 1997 when Helliwell was a high school teacher and coach in Bowling Green, Kentucky. That tumor was extracted through surgery, and, once fully recovered, she realized her dream of becoming a college soccer coach in 2009 at Rose-Hulman.

Then, late last May Helliwell learned that the tumor had returned, and she informed soccer team members. After another craniotomy operation in June, Helliwell learned that she would need to undergo a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments to wipe the cancer away. She just completed the first seven-week treatment schedule at a Terre Haute hospital.

“We knew it would eventually come back. We just thought after 17 years, we didn’t expect it to return,” she says. “I can take [the cancer] either as a blessing or as a curse. I’m taking it as a blessing in that ‘Yeah, it’s a roadblock. It’s a hill. It’s a mountain that I have to climb. But with the love and support of my family, friends, team, and Rose-Hulman, I’m able to get up that mountain.”

The campus community and women’s soccer team organized a "Grey Matter Awareness Game" on October 6 to raise public awareness about grey matter and other forms of cancer. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Donations raised at the event were given to the foundation of Helliwell's choice.

Players, coaches, students, faculty and staff members are also wearing special red bracelets with the phrase “Cancer Messed With The Wrong Team – We Are Rose.”

“It’s OK to throw yourself a pity party every once in a while,” says Helliwell, who has been thankful for the campus-wide support. “You’ve got to have that support system and you have to have friends and family around you that really care about you. You’ve also got to have that drive and ambition [to beat cancer]. But I really think that having a positive attitude is the key.”

That drive to beat cancer is shared by her husband, Sean, Rose-Hulman’s men’s soccer coach, and current and past women’s soccer team members. Before the season, the team established a three-word theme for this season: Trust. Persistence. Attitude.

“[Amy} is mentally very, very tough. She doesn’t let things get her down too much. She takes things in stride,” says Sean Helliwell. “She does everything with a lot of grace.”

Senior co-captain Mallory McDevitt adds, “It’s fantastic to see her back out coaching again. When she had the surgery in June, I think everything was up in the air about when she’d come back to work and how she would be able to do it. For her to be back out coaching and living a normal life in a lot of ways…it’s just great to see.”

This year’s soccer team has started play in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference portion of the fall season, hoping to cap the season with a league championship and trip to the NCAA Division III national tournament.

“[Coaching] has been a pleasant distraction,” admits Amy Helliwell. “As I tell my players, once you step on the field, forget about everything else but the team and getting better every day. Those messages mean more to me now…Coaching keeps me focused on something other than cancer.”