More than two years later, Maria Gonzalez still remembers her doctor’s first two words: “It’s bad.”
In January 2021, the Woodlawn volleyball coach was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Almost immediately, she fought through rounds and rounds of chemotherapy. She spiked the cancer and rang the bell.
Not even two months after she beat cancer, Gonzalez had to get back up and fight again when she caught a severe case of COVID-19. The cancer drugs had weakened her immune system, so the virus sent her into acute respiratory failure.
She spent 31 days in intensive care. She was away from her team even longer while in rehabilitation, relearning how to breathe and walk on her own.
By January 2022, the physical therapy sessions went away. Then in July, the cancer returned. This time, however, she didn’t miss the fall semester.
Gonzalez, the recipient of the The Advocate’s 2023 Courage Award, coached through it all, balancing cancer treatments with games and practices while leading Woodlawn to the 2022 LHSAA Division I volleyball playoffs.
Today, she’s cancer free.
So what kept Gonzalez going? Her daughter Alexis’ volleyball games at Southeastern, she said. Her players at Woodlawn. And the support of other Baton Rouge-area schools: St. Joseph’s, Parkview Baptist, Central, Baton Rouge High, Brusly and West Feliciana.
“The worst thoughts come to mind,” Gonzalez said. “It was just a shock. I gave myself a couple days to feel sorry for myself and cry about it, and then, you just gotta be positive. You gotta suck it up and fight.”
Last season, Gonzalez received treatment on Fridays. After a couple of days of rest, she coached games on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then after a practice on Thursday, she’d start the cycle again.
“So that’s what got me through, too,” Gonzalez said. “I could come to practice, be with my girls, don’t think about it. That was my safe space.”
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