Less than four months after completing the equivalent of nine rounds of chemotherapy to treat Burkitt’s lymphoma, one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, former Benet and current Villanova standout Gabby Pethokoukis is back on the volleyball court.
“Gabby has begun to practice with her team on a limited basis,” her father, John, said recently. “She tires fast and cannot complete an entire practice as it is too rigorous for her. Nonetheless, she is not giving up and is determined to play at some point, possibly this season.
“She is feeling better, just not at full strength,” he added. “Her mood is great and she is excited about the school year and loves Villanova. They have been incredibly supportive to her.”
Burkitt’s lymphoma is a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in which cancer starts in immune cells called B-cells. Burkitt’s lymphoma, the fastest growing human tumor, is associated with impaired immunity and can be fatal if left untreated for any length of time.
Burkitt’s lymphoma is incredibly rare outside of Africa. About 1,200 people are diagnosed in the United States annually and nearly 60 percent of patients are over the age of 40.
Pethokoukis’ initial symptoms mirrored mononucleosis. She went back and forth between the team trainers, the student health center and the emergency room before a biopsy following a tonsillectomy revealed she might have lymphoma.
She returned home and began treatments at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last spring. Pethokoukis had three blood transfusions and was hospitalized overnight for 28 days over a three-month period. Between treatments, there were constant trips to the hospital for monitoring.
“It was terribly rigorous treatment as it had to be due to the aggressive nature of Burkitt’s Lymphoma,” her father said.
However, the good news came in June when tests revealed Pethokoukis was in complete remission.
“Despite it all, she never lost hope and stayed positive and happy,” John Pethokoukis said. “Her boyfriend Brad Seaton, the starting left tackle on the Villanova football team, was super supportive and took time away from summer training to be with her during the most difficult periods of her treatments.”
For a normal person the recovery is thought to be at least six months before they start feeling better. Gabby started training again after just two. She continues to feel tired and at times light-headed and will need to moderate her workouts. But she is back, cancer-free and happy. Thanks be to God.”
The 6-3 Pethokoukis was a member of the 2011 state championship team at Benet and was an all-Big East second team selection at Villanova in fall 2013. After an injury sidelined her for the early part of the 2013 season, she appeared in 17 matches and finished second in the conference in attack percentage.
“My ultimate goal is to be able to play, but I am taking that day-by-day and just doing what I can,” Pethokoukis said. “I am at practice now to support the team and get stronger.”
Other than tiring easily, there is only one sign hinting that something was amiss with Gabby just a few short months ago. The chemotherapy left her nearly bald.
“Being so tall, she gets a lot of strange looks about it,” John Pethokoukis said.
The pool assignments for the Wheaton Classic were announced recently.
Top-seeded Benet will be joined by Oak Park-River Forest and Glenbrook South in Pool A, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at Wheaton North. Benet plays Oak Park at 5 p.m. and Glenbrook South at 6:30 p.m. followed by Oak Park and Glenbrook South at 8 p.m.
No. 2 seed Sandburg will be joined by Waubonsie Valley and host Wheaton Warrenville South in Pool B, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at WW South. Sandburg plays Waubonsie Valley at 5 p.m. and WW South at 6:30 p.m. followed by Waubonsie Valley and WW South at 8 p.m.
Marist will be joined by Plainfield Central and Lemont in Pool C, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at WW South. Marist plays Plainfield Central at 5 p.m. and Lemont at 6:30 p.m. followed by Plainfield Central and Lemont at 8 p.m.
Libertyville will be joined by Naperville Central and Wheaton Academy in Pool F, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at WW South. Libertyville plays Naperville Central at 5 p.m. and Wheaton Academy at 6:30 p.m. followed by Naperville Central and Wheaton Academy at 8 p.m.
Naperville North will be joined by Neuqua Valley and Evanston in Pool G, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at WW South. Naperville North plays Neuqua Valley at 5 p.m. and Evanston at 6:30 p.m. followed by Neuqua Valley and Evanston at 8 p.m.
St. Charles North will be joined by Wheaton North and Rosary in Pool H, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at Wheaton North. St. Charles North plays Wheaton North at 5 p.m. and Rosary at 6:30 p.m. followed by Wheaton North and Rosary at 8 p.m.
Plainfield North will be joined by Downers Grove South and Prairie Ridge in Pool D, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at Wheaton North. Plainfleld North plays Downers South at 5 p.m. and Prairie Ridge at 6:30 p.m. followed by Downers South and Prairie Ridge at 8 p.m.
Hinsdale Central will be joined by Downers Grove North and Hinsdale South in Pool E, which plays Wednesday, September 17 at Wheaton North. Hinsdale Central plays Downers North at 5 p.m. and Hinsdale South at 6:30 p.m. followed by Downers North and Hinsdale South at 8 p.m.
The tournament continues Saturday, September 20 with Gold, Silver and Bronze flights at WW South.
Three teams from Illinois joined Mother McAuley, St. Francis and Benet in Prepvolleyball.com’s Century Club rankings of the top 100 high school teams in the country – No. 84 Glenbard West, No. 85 Normal and No. 86 Geneva.
Just outside the top 100 were Hersey, Joliet Catholic, Lyons, Nazareth and Normal West. Teams on the “bubble” included Crystal Lake South, De La Salle, Glenbard South, Hinsdale Central, La Salle-Peru, Lemont, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North, Marist and New Trier.
Also on the bubble were Oak Park-River Forest, Payton, Plainfield Central, Plainfield North, Providence, Sandburg and Springfield.
You always learn something about downstate teams when a Chicago area school participates in a tournament outside the metropolitan area. Last weekend, we learned that Breese Mater Dei and Mascoutah could be players in Class 3A this season.
A very good 6-2 Minooka team lost to Breese Mater Dei 25-12, 25-11 in pool play and then to Mascoutah 23-25, 26-24, 17-15 in the Silver division semifinals to finish seventh at the Edwardsville Tiger Classic last weekend.
Minooka defeated Carlinville 25-21, 26-28, 15-5 and Collinsville 25-22, 25-20 in pool play and beat Decatur St. Teresa 25-19, 26-24 for seventh place. Minooka’s Ginger Perinar was named to all-tournament team after collecting 45 kills, 32 digs and 12 aces. Jessica Karalow added 24 kills and nine blocks, Allison Papesh had 21 kills and 11 blocks, Kelly Clucas amassed 99 assists and Theresa Diamond had 31 digs.
Prepvolleyball.com is counting down its “Senior Aces,” the top 100 recruits in the country according to a survey of coach colleges and recruiters.The list includes No. 82 Rachel Burau, the 5-10 setter from Wheaton Warrenville South who is committed to Wake Forest, and No. 77 Sarah Shafiq, a 6-6 rightside and middle blocker from New Trier who is headed to California.
Also, No. 71. Julia Saunders, the 6-3 outside and rightside hitter from Nazareth Academy who will join a growing contingent of Illinois players at Wisconsin, and No. 55. Amanda Green, the 6-1 outside hitter from Niles North who is headed to Marquette.
Hannah Juley, the 5-10 setter from Lyons who is headed to Wisconsin to join her older sister Erin next fall, checked in at No. 21.
Speaking of north of the border, Grace Loberg, the 6-2 sophomore outside hitter from Geneva, has verbally committed to Wisconsin.