Cassie Cleveland is an athlete. She was playing soccer, basketball and running track for Kankakee Valley a year ago.
The junior was shopping with her grandma over winter break last season when she started to lose her vision and feel sick. A CT scan revealed a noncancerous sarcoma tumor behind her optic nerve. She was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis for surgery at 2 a.m. on Jan. 6.
It would be the first of four surgeries, the last in May.
"When I was in the hospital, I was the positive one," Cleveland said. "Everything was happening to me and my family were all crying, but I was like 'it's OK, I'm going to be fine.'
"It was hard, but somebody had to do it."
K.V. soccer coach Alex Conklin overheard Cleveland telling her story late last school year. Conklin is in his first season at Kankakee Valley and didn't know Cleveland, but he asked her be a student manager for this season's squad.
"I wanted to be a part of the team somehow," Cleveland said. "I was really happy."
Her responsibilities include keeping stats, warming up the goalie and monitoring water.
"It makes me feel left out in a way, because I can't play anymore," she said. "But if I wasn't a manager, I wouldn't come (to games) because I would be pretty sad."
The steroids she was prescribed have caused her to gain 100 pounds. Her adrenal glands don't work. Her pituitary and thyroid don't, either, and nobody can tell her if those will ever come back.
Cleveland and her family don't expect her to need any more surgery.
The illness ended her soccer career, though, as doctors say the sport is too physical.
"(Life is) a lot different now. It's harder to cope with things," Cleveland said. "I can't run now."
Conklin said just having Cleveland at practices and games has changed the outlook his group has on life.
"With her around, there shouldn't be any girl on our team who takes anything we do for granted," Conklin said. "Last year she was on this team and four months later she wasn't able to play soccer ever again."
The Kougars have seen their share of success this season, heading into the sectional at 13-1-1. Conklin said Cleveland is still a big part of the team.
"I've talked to her about coaching. She's picking up a lot being on the bench," Conklin said. "As adults we find out that even if we can't keep playing because of our bodies and getting old, that's one way to stay involved and I think that'd be a perfect thing she can do later on down the road."
She has six different doctors but has her visits cut down to only one each month.
Cleveland hopes to be cleared to play basketball. She's willing to accept sitting that season out if she has to, though.
"I'm glad this happened to me, because now I know the value of life," Cleveland said. "It's special. I could have died but I didn't. Life's precious."