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Girls' soccer preview: Cheyenne Mountain's Walters uses sport as an escape from mom's cancer battle

March 13, 2014 Updated: March 13, 2014 at 6:37 pm
Caption +
Cheyenne Mountain senior soccer player Sara Walters, right, leans her head against her mother, Michelle Walters, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last November and had a double mastectomy in January. Sara has taken on the role of being one of her mother's main caretakers. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

While the girls' soccer season is barely underway, Michelle Walters already has noticed a change in the way her daughter Sara strikes the ball.

"In soccer there's only been two games, but she looks really, really good," Michelle said.

"Her kicks I've noticed are even stronger when she takes a shot."

Those stronger kicks are related to what the Walters family is going through.

Michelle noticed a lump in her breast in November. By mid-January two forms of cancer and an aggressive tumor forced her to undergo a double mastectomy. She is undergoing treatment - chemotherapy now, radiation later - for the next five months.

Sara has become one of Michelle's main caretakers. That development was no surprise to her 53-year-old mother.

"It's just heartwarming," Michelle said. "She and I have always been very close. I'm close with all of my kids. But when she was little she was always right beside me. We just have a special bond."

That bond has seen Sara, 18, dress Michelle's wounds after surgery, leave classes to take her to doctor's appointments and help in other ways around the house, as she, her three siblings and their father have taken over roles usually left for mom.

Sara's Pride Soccer club teammates and her Indians teammates - both basketball and soccer - have come to the family's aid. A meal train started by teammates has different families taking turns bringing dinner.

"We try to take her (Sara) out and get her mind off it," teammate Kyra Darr said.

"I knew people would be sympathetic and everything," Sara said, "but I never had any idea of how many people cared about our family and my mom."

Indians soccer coach Tomas Martinez has been through a similar ordeal. His mother is a breast cancer survivor. Knowing that, Sara has used her coach as a confidant.

"I feel like it made it easier to talk to him and go to him about this," said Sara, who was selected to the annual area high school basketball all-star game. "He's a lot more understanding if I have to be late to practice or have to go to an appointment with my mom."

When she is on the soccer field, Sara has found an extra burst. And there's a decided reason behind it.

"I kind of use sports for an escape from what's going on," she said. "I also play for my mom. In a way it's helped me do better. I would think since she's fighting so much right now, I can't make excuses on the field."

Martinez said Sara has been just as good, if not better, on the field. Off the field it's not exactly the same.

"... Before and after (practice and games), she's a little more quiet," Martinez said. "Like something's on her mind a little bit."

Michelle noticed a change in Sara soon after the diagnosis.

"At the very beginning she pulled away a little bit because she was scared," Michelle said. "She thought if she didn't think about it or talk about it then maybe she wouldn't be so scared."

Eventually Sara did talk about it. Since then, she's been back at her mom's side.

The Indians could bring back a breast cancer-awareness night, which they've done in the past, Martinez said.

"I think it would be really great," Sara said. "Not just for our family but for everyone in our community and the region to support everyone going through such a hard time."

Michelle made it to all but a couple of Sara's basketball games - missing a few when she was recovering from surgery. She hasn't missed a soccer game and doesn't plan on missing any this season for the defending Class 4A state champs. In the fall, Sara will be playing for New Mexico State, about a nine-hour drive from Colorado Springs. The Aggies play both Colorado College and Air Force next season. Michelle is planning to be at those games, too.

Like her daughter, Michelle expects to be kicking harder by then.

"I was willing to give both my breasts, have all the side effects and lose my hair," Michelle said. "But I'm not willing to leave my family. I'm going to do everything in my power to be a survivor."

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