A year ago, Kelly Majam and her Hawaii teammates were on top of the softball world.
They were crushing home runs at school-record and NCAA-leading paces. They would go on to win the WAC regular season and tournament titles. Then they marched through the NCAA tournament. The Rainbow Wahine swept through their regional site in Stanford, Calif., and posted a pair of dramatic wins at Alabama to win a Super Regional and advance to the Women’s College World Series.
Hawaii led the nation in scoring, posting 7.39 runs per game, home runs per game with 2.39 and slugging percentage at .642. Individually, Majam had a nation-leading 30 home runs, ranked third in the nation in home runs per game, fourth in runs scored per game, fifth in slugging percentage. She finished her dream season at the ESPY Awards, where she represented her team and school as their Super Regional win against Alabama was nominated for “Best Upset” at the 2010 ESPYs.
As Majam and her teammates negotiated a full month on the road playing softball, Majam started the trip seeing the team’s trainer while in Las Cruces, N.M., for the WAC Tournament.
“At the WAC Tournament, which was a month before the World Series,” said Majam, “I woke up and I had felt a lump in my throat. It just hurt when I would swallow deeply or swallow a lot of water or breathe in deeply. I told my trainer and I wasn’t really sure what it was and he said we would check it out once we were done. After that week, I wasn’t really focusing on it. I was focusing on other things, obviously. I forgot about it until I got back home and my mom had suggested we should just go check it out.”
Majam’s mother, Pat, remembers the first time she was made aware of the lump in Kelly’s throat.
“I was at Stanford when I talked to [the team trainer],” said Pat. “He told me that she had a lump in her throat. Just the way that he said it to me, I knew it was something he was concerned about. We’d definitely have to get it checked out when she got home.”
That doctor’s visit revealed thyroid cancer. From there, the treatment plan was fast and sure.
“It was quick,” recalls Ros Majam, Kelly’s father. “She had the biopsy on a Monday, we found out the results on a Wednesday and they had the surgery the following Tuesday. It all happened so fast, it was really kind of surreal.”
The situation was even more perplexing because Kelly had lost the entire 2009 season to a medical redshirt, fighting through rehab on an ACL tear and a subsequent meniscus repair. She played as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
“[I thought] this can’t really be happening after that year and after all she had been through with her ACL surgery then meniscus surgery,” said Ros. “She always said she’s not afraid of surgery. She’s not afraid of someone cutting her up. She was afraid of not being able to play. That’s what scared her the most, was having softball taken away from her.”
“Once [the doctor] told me that it was cancer,” said Kelly, “the first thing that went through my mind was if I was going to be able to play because that is definitely a big part of who I am. I was nervous and a lot of the questions that we asked were that I do play softball, will I be able to go back in the fall or go in for off-season training and then in the spring we go again. Those are questions we asked the doctor. I definitely was doubting if I was going to be able to play and feel 100% and do my best. I have high expectations for myself so I did want to do my best and not give half effort here. That was definitely something I was worried about.”
Majam’s treatment plan started with surgery to remover her thyroid gland. She will be on thyroid replacement pills for the rest of her life. Over Christmas break, Majam dealt with her radiation treatments. Because her radiation treatment happened in pill form, she was able to negotiate her treatments and the accompanying restrictive diet as final exams concluded and while bridging the travel back to Pine Valley, Calif., for the remainder of the holiday break.
“My radiation treatment was probably the hardest part,” said Kelly. “It was very difficult both emotionally and physically. I was off of my [thyroid] medication, which meant I was very fatigued and very tired. I didn’t do very much, and it was also during finals so it was hard, but it worked out pretty well.
“When I went home, I had to be in isolation for five days after I got the radiation pill, and I as on a special diet, so it was just a lot of little things.”
“I really wanted her to stay home for a semester,” said Pat. “I thought how are you going to do that diet in a dorm, but they were great too. Hawaii has been awesome for Kelly. She just called up someone in the dining hall and gave them a list of things she could eat so they made all of her meals. She just had to call ahead and say ‘I’m coming’ and they had it all ready for her. She only had to do that for about 10 days in Hawaii, I think, and when she came back we finished off the diet before the treatment. Then I got to take care of her and I felt better. Still we had to send her back again. She grew up really quickly over the last couple years.”
Majam has started all 40 games for the Rainbow Wahine in 2011, leading off and playing centerfield. She is hitting .275 with six home runs through those first 40 games. While those numbers can be seen as a drop-off from her record-setting pace last season, Hawaii enters this weekend’s road WAC series at Louisiana Tech with a 28-12 (6-3 WAC) record, and the team is in position to qualify for the 2011 WAC Tournament, which will take place in Fresno, Calif., May 11-14.
“I always pictured Kelly playing no matter what,” said Ros. “They were going to have to drag her off the field. She was going to play.”
Kelly Majam certainly is continuing her family’s softball tradition. Her older sister, Allison, played softball and just graduated from Colorado State. Kelly is the second daughter, while the third daughter, Mari, is a freshman playing softball at Northwestern. The youngest Majam sister, Gracie, is a freshman in high school. Parents Ros and Pat met playing softball on a co-ed team at work.
While Kelly may not be fully recovered from her bout with thyroid cancer, she is continuing to focus on school and softball. A repeat as the NCAA’s home run leader is unlikely, but that is far from Kelly’s focus.
“I just want double digits,” said Majam of her projected 2011 home run total. “Last year I didn’t think I was going to hit that many home runs. I had hit a lot of home runs in the past but not that many in one season or that many in one weekend. I was never like that.”
As for her prognosis as a cancer survivor, the outlook is very positive.
“Ten days after my radiation,” said Kelly, “I went back into the doctor and had a full-body scan that took about two and a half hours. They didn’t find any cancer cells anywhere else but they don’t consider you a cancer survivor until five years later, so next Christmas break, I have to go back and have another body scan to see if anything changed, which it shouldn’t.
“Thyroid cancer is very treatable. They said it probably wouldn’t spread. There’s only a small percentage that does so as of now I’m fine. I feel great. I would say I’m 100 percent but my coach always says otherwise. He doesn’t think I’m 100 percent but I’m an optimistic person. I feel ready to go. I’m very thankful that I get to play and be here and play the game I love.”