By Doug Drowley | Special to The Seattle Times
Bottelberghe kicks past cancer on road back to state
The shock simply wasn’t there when August rolled around.
Monica Bottelberghe already had been through that part of the emotional spectrum several months earlier – when her doctors took the first biopsy of a small lump on the Columbia River senior-to-be’s throat.
“They were going to remove it then. But it just came back suspicious,” said Bottelberghe, whose second biopsy took place on August 15. “I’d already gone through the shock.”
That second biopsy was more conclusive.
Just 11 days later, the defending Class 3A state 200-yard freestyle champion was in a hospital bed after surgery. The diagnosis had been a cancerous thyroid – specifically papillary follicular thyroid cancer.
Bottelberghe’s thyroid (along with 65 lymph nodes) were removed on August 26. Seven days later, Bottelberghe attended the first day of her senior year.
“That was very important to her,” Bottelberghe’s mother, Sheri Bottelberghe said. “I think part of the healing process for Monica was getting back into the pool, getting on with her life as soon as possible, getting back to what she loves to do.”
What Bottelberghe loves to do is compete in the pool.
Two weeks after her surgery, she was back in the water.
“All I did that first day was kick for about 20 minutes,” Bottelberghe said. “I lost all feeling in my neck. The water, I couldn’t feel it. It was just weird.”
Nerve endings had been severed, as expected, during the surgery. That wasn’t going to stop Monica Bottelberghe, however.
“Uh, no!” Bottelberghe said. “This was going to happen anyway, somehow.”
Bottelberghe swam her first meet on October 3 at Kelso.
She admits stepping up on the blocks for the first time since surgery left her “a little freaked out.” It was only the second time diving into the pool since the Boise State-bound senior’s cancer surgery.
“When she dove off the block, it was like it was her first race,” Sheri Bottelberghe said. “She just did great. I know that took a lot of courage.”
A month later, Bottelberghe finally feels like things are getting right again in the pool. Despite having not lost a race so far, it’s only been recently that she’s gotten back swimming close to where she was a year ago.
“I’m so looking forward to racing, competing, giving it my all,” Bottelberghe said. “State is one of my favorite meets.”
Bottelberghe can’t wait to be back on the swim deck in Federal Way.
“I guess I expect it to feel like it always does,” Bottelberghe said. “But 10 times more extreme because it’s my senior year, and what I’ve gone through.”
Whether there is another state title in the offing or not, Bottelberghe says she will be fine.
“My physical therapist told me he wouldn’t let me compete if I was going to be mad (should she not win),” Bottelberghe said. “I told him I am competitive, so of course I’ll be mad. But I will be proud. I will accept it.”
Her mom can’t wait to see what happens on Nov. 15 and 16.
“The one thing I’ve learned from this, every person you meet, you don’t know what their story is, what they’ve been through,” Sheri Bottelberghe said. “But they’re all getting up on the blocks. It’s fun to see who overcomes. Every year brings a new set of challenges, and this is a big one.
“I’m excited to see what she does. This is just going to make the victory sweeter.”
- Gig Harbor dominated the West Central District pool on Saturday, getting two individual victories each from senior Carolyn McCann (expected) and freshman Anna Furrer (less expected). McCann won the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. Furrer, the only freshman to win an event at districts, won the 200 and 500 frees.
- Mercer Island got its post-season off to a rousing start at the Kingco Championships. The only league meet that combines 4A, 3A and 2A competitors to decide a single team title pit all three state team champions from 2012 – Newport, Mercer Island and Lake Washington – against each other. The Islanders racked up 642 team points to outpace the runner-up Knights at 552 points. Lake Washington was a distant 16th with 101 points.
- Federal Way senior Kenna Ramey continued to gear up for the state meet in fine fashion at last weekend’s West Central District meet. Ramey broke the meet record in the 100 butterfly in 55.27 seconds (former record 56.68, from 2002). The 55.27 also already is lower than Ramey’s state-winning time (56.00) from a year ago.
- Mount Rainier senior Megan Kawaguchi’s bigger races come in two weeks. But the defending WCD champion, and third-place state finisher in the 100 back a year ago, was beaten at districts by Kentlake senior Kyndal Phillips.
Who’s going where?
Michigan – Carolyn McCann, Gig Harbor
USC – Hannah Weiss, Mercer Island (does not swim for school)
Boise State – Monica Bottelberghe, Columbia River; Emma Chard, Foss
Utah – Shayla Archer, Bainbridge
Texas A&M – Lisa Bratton, Richland
WSU – Hannah Bruggman, Wenatchee
Yale – Heidi VanderWel, Monroe
Cal Poly SLO – Caitlin Cox, Mercer Island; Sage Speak, Inglemoor
Know a swimmer who has committed to a college? Email Doug Drowley at email@example.com.