My name is Sarah Hagen and I currently play professional soccer for FC Kansas City in the NWSL. However, it has been an interesting ride getting to where I am now. When I was 15 years old, and a freshmen in high school, I was diagnosed with a form of cancer called Dysgerminoma. It was just after Christmas of 2004 when I first started realizing that something was wrong. I was always very active and had been playing soccer and basketball up until the day I went into the hospital. I had noticed this bump or mass in my stomach that had been getting larger and larger each day. It had been very painful doing ab and core exercises during practices and was becoming very noticeable in appearance. So much that my mom was concerned that I was pregnant. The doctors said that it was equivalent to the size of a size 4 soccer ball. I had also been having to go to the bathroom 3-4 times a night because of the pressure that the tumor was putting on my bladder. So after 2 weeks of hoping that it was nothing I decided that I needed to tell my mom that I thought something was wrong. But being 15 and scared I didn’t know how to exactly bring it up. As soon as I showed her, she knew that something was seriously not good, but made me feel reassured that everything was going to be okay. The next day I left school early to go to my pediatrician where they examined me and sent me to the hospital. At the hospital they made me do an MRI and CAT scan, but they said that I needed to head to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, for further tests. After that morning of tests and uncertainty of what was actually wrong with me, I was feeling quite overwhelmed and scared. So that night my parents and I headed to Milwaukee where I did more tests and saw more doctors. They told me that they couldn’t determine if it was cancerous or not, so I needed to have an exploratory surgery to biopsy the tumor and see what exactly it was attached to. A few days later the results came back that it was indeed cancerous. I’m sure any cancer patient would agree with me, that when you hear the words “you have cancer” you feel an overwhelming amount of emotions. You feel sad, angry, shocked, scared, etc. I remember thinking “why me?” almost every single day. And there really isn’t any answer for that question. Which can be very difficult to realize.
Going forward, I was told the tumor was too big and had too many blood vessels going through it to remove during the initial surgery. The doctors were also unsure what exactly the tumor was attached to so they decided it was best to treat me with 3 rounds of 3 different chemotherapy drugs. The first round of chemotherapy went accordingly and I had the normal side effects. However, a month later, that was not the case for the second round. Within the first 10-15 minutes of starting my second round of chemo I started getting this metallically taste in my mouth and wasn’t able to breath so well. I was actually going into anaphylactic shock. At this time I couldn’t breath at all. My parents immediately got the nurse’s attention and the crew came rushing in with an oxygen mask and gave me a triple dose of Benedryl to fight against the allergic reaction I was having. That seemed to work and after a few minutes I was breathing normally again. That was probably the scariest moment of my life. My mom said she had never seen somebody’s face get so red. So before the third and final round of chemotherapy they gave me Benedryl prior to the chemo. Luckily, I didn’t have the same reaction.
There were other complications that went on along the way such as pancreatitis and a near kidney failure scare. After the initial exploratory surgery, I woke up throwing up stomach acid. That lasted a few days, so they put me on a special diet to help calm my stomach. The doctors said that because of the size and weight of the tumor, it had shifted organs out of place and had actually crush the tubes going from your kidneys to your bladder. They were forced to put stints into the tubes to help support them. They told me that was what was causing me to have to feel like I had to go to the bathroom so much. They also told me that if I hadn’t told my mom when I did about the tumor, it was just a matter of days till my kidneys failed and I would’ve been forced to come into the hospital.
After the three rounds of chemotherapy I had more scans taken and the tumor had shrunk down to the size of a fist. The surgeons said that they wanted to schedule me for surgery to remove the tumor but said that they thought it was best to also perform a hysterectomy. It ultimately was my choice, but not knowing if the cancer had spread to the other organs or not and having to deal with the thought of it coming back was something that I didn’t want to worry about. Having to make that decision as a 15 year old was extremely difficult. Even though I am unable to have kids of my own someday, I know that there are other options, such as adoption, to have a family.
The entire process lasted about 5 months. On May 6th, 2005 I had the final surgery, where the surgeons removed the tumor and performed the hysterectomy. It is also that day every year that I celebrate my anniversary of being cancer free. I’m unbelievably lucky and blessed to have the amount of support from my family, friends, teammates, and fans on that day. It is also that support and faith that got me through the process. All of the people in my life at the time helped me have a positive attitude in fighting the cancer and without them I don’t think I could’ve done it. I am very thankful for everyone and for the group of doctors and surgeons at The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for helping me get to where I am today, which is living my dream of being a professional soccer player.