Kailani Decock is not one to wallow in self-pity.
She sees little need to complain even when tough cancer treatments sideline her for a full week at time, chalking them up simply as a “horrible hangover that you can’t get over.”
It’s tough to even catch a hint from the Calgary teen that five months ago her life came crashing down. Decock had just returned from her junior year at Troy University in Alabama and a promising run with the NCAA Division 1 Trojans soccer team — it’s a rare feat for an athlete north of the border to even suit up for a high-level squad down south.
It was then that doctors told her lumps in her throat they’d first noticed a few months prior were cancerous; in June, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I decided then that I’m not just going to sit there,” she said bluntly. “I’m going to fight this and help other people along the way.”
Together with her peers from the soccer pitch nearly 4,000 kilometres away, Project 19 was developed, a fundraising initiative to support fellow cancer victims and researchers.
Decock wears number 19 on her soccer jersey.
To date, thousands have gotten involved in the project, creating bracelets for donors, joining together to form human 19s at Troy sporting events and hosting numerous fraternity parties.
“We wanted to create something that she could feel through action,” said Chris Bentley, Decock’s coach at Troy. “There was a lot of really cool things that came from really reaching and spreading awareness — I don’t think any of us could have fathomed it getting this big.”
The effort has also extended well beyond Troy’s campus, as National Hockey League tough guy Ryan White with the Montreal Canadiens shaved his hockey hair in a show of solidarity. The Decocks billeted White while he was playing hockey for the Calgary Hitmen and Kailani described him as her “brother.”
She’s also been fundraising in Calgary and just completed her 12th and final chemotherapy treatment on Friday. She will receive some fresh results from her doctor in the coming weeks and has full intentions of returning to Troy in January and to the soccer pitch next fall.
She said Project 19, which has raised between $15,000-20,000 to date, could benefit many unable to afford cancer treatments, especially in the U.S.
“With Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it’s curable with treatments but people can’t afford to do it,” she said. “I don’t think that problem should ever exist — I have it in my mind that if we save even one life, we’ve done our job.”
Decock also has eyes on becoming a hematologist after a school, a career that will allow her aid countless other cancer sufferers.
But first Bentley said the Trojans can’t wait to welcome her back.
“There’s a place for her in our family forever,” he said.