When Katrina Cameron heard the crack of the bat and saw the ball arcing toward her territory in right field, her heart started racing.
The thought never would have crossed her mind two years ago. She’d been one of the very best players in her age group in the Abbotsford Minor Fastball Association, a wiry dynamo with the local rep A teams.
But so much had changed since then.
In July 2011, she’d undergone surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumour, and during the subsequent radiation and chemotherapy, she dropped from 100 pounds to 64. When she came out to watch a ballgame in 2012, her former teammates and coaches were devastated to see she couldn’t walk without assistance.
The cancer, though, had been taken care of, and she’d been making a graduated return to the ball diamond in 2013 – practicing as much as her body would allow, and playing a few innings here and there with the Abbotsford Outlaws 97/98 B squad.
But her co-ordination, stamina and strength still weren’t what they once were, and making a play on a fly ball was anything but routine.
The ball reached its apex and started to fall, and Cameron started to run towards it.
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Just before her team’s first game at the 2011 provincial championship, Cameron’s mother Amberley called head coach Leasa Lepine and informed her Katrina wouldn’t be able to make it. She’d been struggling with headaches and vomiting.
“In the pit of my stomach, I thought something wasn’t right, because that’s not like her (to miss games),” said Lepine, who had coached Cameron since she was nine years old. “She’s very tough.”
A CT scan revealed Cameron had medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumour.
“We were at the bedside, and me and my mom kind of looked at each other in shock, and then we started bawling our eyes out,” she recalled.
Cameron underwent surgery the next day at BC Children’s Hospital, and after the scar healed, it was on to radiation and chemo. The process took a horrendous toll – for a while she was unable to eat, and had to have a feeding tube inserted.
One particular drug, vincristine, did a number on her muscles and ligaments, robbing her of her athletic vitality.
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When Lepine invited Cameron to join the Outlaws 97/98 B squad this year, the youngster was nervous.
Regaining mobility in her joints was still a work in progress, and she’d lost the muscle memory for hitting, catching, even running. This was a different group of girls than she’d played with before. Would they want her around?
But the team, Cameron said, has been “absolutely amazing.”
“It was a relief,” said the 16-year-old, who is going into Grade 11 at Hatzic Secondary. “The girls are incredible . . . They’re always cheering me on, making sure I have my hopes up.”
The inspiration runs both ways.
At a tournament in North Delta in May, Lepine sensed her team was getting frustrated after making a few errors in the field. She asked Cameron to address the group.
“She was like, ‘Come on, girls! This is just a game! Have fun!’” Lepine related. “And then they all just started laughing, and they played so hard afterwards.
“She brings such leadership to the team . . . With Katrina here, they kind of realize the big picture of life.”
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The aforementioned fly ball came Cameron’s way during a tourney game a few weeks back.
She closed in and stabbed the ball on the backhand, and her teammates went bananas.
“I was like, ‘Holy crap, the ball’s in my glove – yes!’” Cameron related with a chuckle.
Cancer-free for over a year now, Cameron is up to 110 pounds, and she’s working with a private trainer as she continues her comeback.
The next big event for her Outlaws is the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship, a major tournament at Softball City in Surrey which runs July 12 to 22.
“It feels like I just conquered everything,” she said of returning to the ball diamond. “Now I’m back with everybody, playing my game.”