Wildcats helping as Lexe kicks leukemia

2012-09-01T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:06:05Z Wildcats helping as Lexe kicks leukemiaPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 01, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Her face appeared on the giant screen, skinnier than they remembered. A ball cap covered the ravages of chemotherapy.

The Arizona Wildcats' surprise guest Aug. 23 was supposed to be their soccer teammate this year. An April diagnosis, though, kept the star recruit home in Salt Lake City to face leukemia.

So Lexe Selman looked in on the team's pregame meeting via Skype.

It was the first time many players had seen 18-year-old Lexe sick.

"She had the same smile I always remembered and known," said freshman defender Sheaffer Skadsen, who played regional ball with Lexe for four years.

The Wildcats had been there for Lexe during the toughest months of her life.

Now she was inspiring them, from a screen at the Jim Click Hall of Champions, before the home opener against BYU.

"Chills," freshman Sheridan Cohen said, "All over."

Cards from Cats

In early August, UA players and coaches mailed a manila envelope filled with cards of encouragement to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

"They came to us," said her father, Mark Selman, "when we didn't know whether Lexe was going to live or not."

The weeks spent recovering from chemotherapy are more dangerous than the treatment itself. The body cannot fight off infection.

While she recovered from her third round of chemotherapy in August, Lexe's temperature spiked to 107 degrees.

Her lungs bled. The left one collapsed.

She developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. Her lungs filled with mucus, so she put was on a ventilator.

She was septic, her blood poisoned by infection.

For 10 days, her heart raced at 110 to 140 beats per minute.

Doctors chemically paralyzed Lexe so she wouldn't shiver while she rested on a cooling blanket. Ten IV pumps distributed blood and drugs to her body.

Lexe was under heavy sedation when Mark and his wife, Laurie, read the letters out loud.

Their daughter had never seemed so lifeless.

The letters, though, crackled with dreams of athleticism.

"Maybe they were as much for Laurie and I as they were for Lexe," Mark said.

The team's almost-naive positivity was exactly what Lexe's parents needed to read that night - days before Lexe would recover after 17 days in intensive care.

"Their intentions were so simple," UA coach Lisa Oyen said of her players, "but the impact was pretty profound."

Belief goes both ways

In high school, Lexe was the perfect player to help rebuild the Wildcats, who had won six times in 39 games the previous two seasons.

The attacking center midfielder captained Alta High School's soccer team in suburban Salt Lake City.

The top 100 recruit could score with both feet. But more importantly for Oyen, Lexe had the tenacity of a great player. She'd try 10 times harder after a mistake.

Oyen half-expected that competitiveness to backfire last year, when Lexe watched the Wildcats play their ugliest match of the season, at BYU.

When the Selmans approached after the game, Oyen wondered if Lexe had changed her mind about becoming a Wildcat.

She could play for more-established programs.

Lexe said, though, that the UA was exactly where she wanted to go. She would do something special there.

Seven months later, a nagging cough and unexplained bruises led Lexe to a doctor, who conducted blood tests and eventually diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia, which starts in bone marrow.

She started chemotherapy 24 hours later.

Oyen visited that week and promised the family that Lexe's scholarship - a mixture of athletic and academic money - would be waiting for her.

"She saw us when we were not at our best," Oyen said. "With her not being at her best physically, we're going to believe in her just like she did with us."

It meant everything.

"Really," Mark, said, "the only thing she has is her dreams right now."

"No one fights alone"

Lexe cut her hair into a bob two days into her first round of chemotherapy.

Eventually, it fell out, she joked in a blog post, like a dog shedding on her bed.

She never complained about leukemia, or asked why. She wondered why other patients didn't receive the same attention.

Friends wore orange, the color of leukemia awareness, and posed for a picture holding a sign that said, in typed letters, "No One Fights Alone."

The UA soccer team sent a photo holding a sign that said, "We Love #13 - Love, Your Family." Basketball star Steve Nash, the reason Lexe wore her number, signed a T-shirt.

A friend wrote a song, "I Play to Win," about Lexe's fight. She and her family began blogging. The title: "Lexe Kicks Leukemia."

"This is part of the becoming of who Lexe Selman is," Mark said. "She's a quiet, humble little girl who's just rallying people."

Lexe's "Disney moment"

Her first hospital stint lasted 32 days. Afterward, Lexe persuaded her club, the Utah Avalanche, to let her warm up with the team.

She did, in a blue skull cap and a medical mask.

Then, at the field, she persuaded her coach to let her start the game.

The team promised to immediately boot the ball out of bounds, so Lexe could substitute out.

Then the most amazing thing happened: Lexe kicked the ball to a teammate, and the Avalanche ran down the field.

About 15 seconds in, Lexe collided with a defender in front of the goal.

Fans gasped.

"What is she DOING?" Laurie asked Mark.

The team played on.

Ten seconds later, the Avalanche controlled the ball again, near midfield.

Lexe, on the right flank, collected a pass, took three steps and, from about 60 feet, fired a goal in the upper right corner of the net.

Tim Bennett, the UA associate head coach who was at the match, called the goal the best thing he'd seen on a soccer field.

"A Disney moment," he said, eyes still twinkling.

Orange Ribbons, No. 13

The Wildcats watched a YouTube clip of Lexe's goal on their big screen last week, before her surprise Skype appearance.

As they will do all year, the Wildcats put orange ribbons in their hair and wore No. 13 jerseys to warm up.

"We wanted to show her we were here fighting for her," Cohen said, "knowing that she's fighting for herself."

Lexe began her fourth - and, she hopes, final - chemotherapy round Monday. The two-a-day treatments end Sunday, but recovery might take all month.

The Wildcats want her to come to a game this year, and to join them in 2013.

Her family's ready, too.

"I don't know that I've met more than one of these girls," Mark said. "But I can't wait to meet each of them and give them a hug."

Watch Lexe's goal

• To see what one UA coach called a "Disney moment," watch Lexe Selman's inspirational goal at tinyurl.com/8r5pe82

• You can follow Lexe's blog at lexekicksleukemia.blogspot.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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