Sky guard Kahleah Copper was 16 when she learned of her mother’s breast cancer.
Leticia Copper contemplated not telling her. After all, Kahleah has always stuck close to her mother. But when Leticia learned of her illness two days before Mother’s Day in 2010, she realized she couldn’t keep the secret from her family, and certainly not from Kahleah.
Kahleah, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, was floored. At the time, she was in the midst of her AAU schedule, which often took her away from home. But Leticia never wanted her illness to interfere with her daughter’s dreams.
So basketball became Kahleah’s safe haven.
“Just being able to [play] was important,” she said. “I just love the game so much, and I enjoy competing. It just puts you in a different place.”
Kahleah is in her first season with the Sky after being acquired from the Washington Mystics along with Stefanie Dolson in the Elena Delle Donne trade. The fact she landed in Chicago is a bit coincidental after the Philadelphia native initially set her sights on playing at DePaul. But once Leticia’s cancer was detected, Kahleah made the decision to stay closer to home and play at Rutgers.
In the five years between when she was diagnosed and declared cancer-free in 2015, Leticia never wanted the disease to be about her. Leticia underwent 17 surgeries in those five years, and through it all, she mustered up the ability to remain positive.
She said she had no other choice.
“I had to be strong for [my family],” said Leticia, whose mother and grandmother also were diagnosed with breast cancer, which claimed Leticia’s mother’s life in February 2016. “I couldn’t let them see the fear on me because it would have trickled down to them. I needed each and every one of them to stay positive about the whole outcome.”
Her attitude found its way to Kahleah, who said she was shocked when she learned she was traded after one season with the Mystics. Kahleah is now a sparkplug off the bench for Sky coach Amber Stocks. She provides a burst of energy she credits to her mother and the approach she took during her bout with cancer.
Watching Leticia persevere provided Kahleah with a different perspective for the game.
“I always see the good in most situations no matter how tough it is or how ugly it is,” Copper said. “I try to see the best in all situations.”
Watching Kahleah’s WNBA career bloom from a distance, Leticia can’t get over how much her daughter has progressed on and off the floor.
“When I watch her, I’m done. I’m at a loss for words,” Leticia said. “She’s got that will, that’s got that drive and all of this and going through all of it has made her a strong person.”
Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.
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