A demanding training routine featuring lots of miles and hours in the pool. An academic semester and competition schedule disrupted by a worldwide pandemic. And, most important, a teammate in special need of encouragement and care hundreds of miles away from Hope College.
Facing numerous challenges together, head coach Jake Taber and the Hope women’s and men’s swim/dive teams have rallied around a Bible verse for inspiration and comfort this semester.
“Let us not become weary in doing good.”Galatians 6:9
These eight divinely-inspired words have helped them navigate their studies while adjusting to the COVID-19 safety protocols on campus. But on a personal level, for senior Hope Reynolds, these words have meant so much more.
Reynolds lost her senior season after she was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall. As she is completing her treatment back home in Exton, Pennsylvania, Galatians 6:9 provides a daily focus for her and her concerned teammates.
“Everything that I’ve gone through, those words have been really important to me,” Reynolds said. “Not giving up, always trying to do the right thing, just do whatever you can to get better. From my health perspective, that is how I look at the verse. From a training perspective, you just get in the water, do the right thing, do the best you can, and then just know in the end it will pay off.”
Just 21 years old, Reynolds learned moments after completing an interview for physical therapy graduate school on September 14 that she had Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. She had met with her doctor virtually in late August after noticing a mass in her breast and struggling with migraines over the summer. On September 9, her doctor scheduled an ultrasound and biopsy.
Once found, the tumor proved so large that surgery was not an option initially. Reynolds first needed eight chemotherapy treatments over a 16-week span starting on October 6.
While 13 percent of women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes, only five percent of those cases occur in women in their 20s and 30s, according to the American Cancer Society.
“I was diagnosed on a Monday; my mom flew out that night. I went to my last practice on Tuesday and told the team. Then, Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. we left for home. I met with my surgeon the next day,” Reynolds said. “They prescribed a whole bunch of tests to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere. I met with my oncologist and she walked me through what my journey would be like.
“My last treatment will be January 12. After that, there will probably be a whole bunch more scans before I decide for sure about the surgery I’m doing. The tumor started at 4 ½ centimeters, but now is down to 1 ½ centimeters, which is awesome.”
The swiftness of the discovery — and the need for Reynolds, amid the pandemic, to recover safely at home two states away — stunned everyone involved, including the team’s coach.
In addition to creating a new training program for his teams and helping a large freshman class adjust to their first semester of college, Taber now desired to find the best ways to communicate with and support a beloved senior. Her concerned teammates needed him, too.
The moment felt overwhelming at first, as it can be for many individuals and families facing a cancer diagnosis.
Relying on Faith
Taber found his path by remembering Galatians 6:9 and striving to live out those impactful words.
He started by listening to Reynolds and picking up her mother, Colleen, at the airport that night she flew in. He continued by following his swimmer’s lead.
“You look at this incredibly healthy, fit young woman, with the world at her fingertips and think ‘How is this even a possibility?’” Taber said. “You find out on a Monday and, two days later, she’s back home in Pennsylvania, meeting with doctors, trying to get to the bottom of it. That just doesn’t seem fair.
“It’s been incredibly difficult for everybody, but the perspective that her parents, Rob and Colleen, have had is great, too. They were very swift and efficient in finding out and understanding what Hope’s options were and what was going to create the best opportunity for her health moving forward.
“The Reynolds are doers. It’s no accident Hope is who she is.”
Rob ‘90 and Colleen Reynolds named their daughter at his alma mater. That word Hope fittingly captures how she has approached her challenging semester, Taber said.
While starting treatment, Reynolds, who is an exercise science major with minors in classical studies and psychology, completed her semester remotely while also joining her teammates for team dry workouts and conversations on Zoom. She also continued work on identifying where she would go for graduate school.
Her handling of everything has inspired and comforted her teammates, including best friend, senior Emma Schaefer.
“People can get frustrated with (COVID-19) and how everything is constantly changing, but seeing how Hope has taken on her cancer diagnosis with such a great attitude — super driven and positive — has been great for everyone to see, ” Schaefer said of her roommate the past three years. “Especially the younger swimmers. They don’t necessarily know what normal is like here. The optimism, trusting in God, it’s been great to have Hope around virtually. She is a beacon of positivity.”
Has Reynolds been tired at times this semester? Yes. Still, as Galatians 6:9 instructs, she has chosen not to allow fatigue to keep her from doing good.In fact, she has a goal of returning to campus in time for her birthday in April and graduating with her classmates. There is work to be done.
“She puts her faith in God and knows that there’s a plan. She doesn’t get tripped up in the ‘Why me?’ or ‘I’m too young for this” mantra, which logically would trickle into a lot of people’s heads,” Taber said. “She’s more ‘I got this for a reason and we’re going to beat it.’ Since I’ve been here, Hope’s not afraid of any practice I can throw at her. She’s not afraid of hard work in the classroom or in the pool. She was ready to attack this cancer recovery head-on.”