By Chris Kowalczyk
February 5, 2004. Kate Hudson will never forget the date. The VCU senior goalkeeper nods with a certain affirmation when she says it, silently acknowledging that it was the day her life changed forever. You see, that was the day Kate Hudson learned she had cancer.
Midway through her final year at River Hill High School in Clarksville, Md., Hudson was looking forward to spring soccer and a lifetime of senior year memories. It came to a screeching halt that February day. Weeks earlier, Hudson found a lump on her neck during indoor track practice. Hudson had been feeling fatigued lately, but chalked it up to the rigors of school and sports. Now she knew something was wrong.
A biopsy revealed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the tissue found in lymph nodes. Unchecked, it can spread to the spleen, liver, bone marrow and other organs. When Hudson received the diagnosis, she was stunned.
“I know the date really well, but a lot of the rest I’ve blocked out,” Hudson said. “I really only remember about a two-minute period of that day. I have no idea what else happened.”
After the initial shock wore off, Hudson endured nearly five months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Although chemo and radiation drained her of her strength, Hudson continued to play soccer during her treatment. A goalkeeper, Hudson didn’t need the same stamina as a striker, although she admits it wasn’t easy.
“I needed to keep playing as a therapeutic function,” Hudson said. “Everybody asked me why I was going to school, why I kept playing soccer. But that’s what I do. I needed to keep doing that.”
Early that summer, doctors gave her a clean bill of health. Although she’d have to have regular checkups, five to six times a year, Hudson was free to resume her life.
|Few things made Amanda Post as happy as soccer.
May 17, 2009. Kate Hudson will never forget the date. Her eyes fixated on the floor, her lip trembling slightly, Hudson recalls the news. That was the day her friend, 15-year-old Amanda Post, lost her battle with cancer.
They had met three years earlier, when Post was a spunky seventh-grader. During one of her routine check-ups, Hudson’s oncologist, Dr. Joseph Wiley, suggested she meet Post, who was just beginning her fight against Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a cancer of the bone marrow. Post was from the same school district and, like Hudson, was also a soccer player. Wiley thought Post could use a mentor like Hudson, who had been through her own cancer battle just three years prior. They became fast friends.
“I remember meeting her for the first time. You could never tell that she was sick,” Hudson said. “She was loud, feisty and so funny with all the nurses. She was telling all the nurses what was going on, instead of the other way around. She was very alive. I knew we were going to get along well.”
Although Hudson was at the University of Richmond a couple of hours away, the two stayed in constant communication. A consummate teenager, Post was armed with an array of messaging options. Through texts, instant messages, phone calls and Facebook pages they forged a bond. Hudson visited when she could, and their families became interwoven. Their mothers grew close.
Later, with Post’s cancer temporarily in check, she played soccer. She made the jayvee team at River Hill, where she practiced alongside Hudson’s younger sister, Carylynne, a member of the varsity.
May 31, 2009. Kate Hudson will never forget the date. She smiles when she talks about it. That was the day she ran a marathon for Amanda.
With Post battling an aggressive form of cancer, Hudson wanted to give something back. Post talked about how she’d wanted to run a marathon. She wanted to be a triathlete someday, but not now. Right now, cancer was winning. So, Hudson decided she would run a marathon. She would run it for Amanda.
Hudson signed up with Team In Training, an organization that helps athletes prepare for marathons, half marathons, triathlons and other competitions. Participants are asked to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in exchange for coaching, training and support. In order to receive travel expenses and entry to the San Diego Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon, Hudson needed to raise about $4,300. She raised $11,000.
“I was shocked,” Hudson said of her final tally. “People were incredibly generous. People that I’ve known my whole life, people that maybe I talked to once in high school or people that I didn’t know.”
Although she’d been an athlete nearly her entire life, Hudson had never trained like this. Soccer practice was one thing. Ten-mile runs were something else entirely. When she needed a friendly voice or a kick in the behind, she could find one in Post.
“I kept telling her week after week when the runs kept getting longer, and she would laugh at my stories and my attempts at being a sudden marathoner,” Hudson said with a laugh. “She told me I was crazy as hell. I would tell her a run was hard, or I would tell her that I was starting the 10 or the 12-mile bracket and she’d tell me, ‘Suck it up. You’re just a big baby. You’ll be fine. Don’t be scared.’ She was always so funny.”
In March, roughly the midway point of her training, Hudson was diagnosed with anemia, and she missed weeks of valuable training. Then, with the marathon approaching, Hudson was jolted again.
Following a bone-marrow transplant, Post’s condition began to deteriorate. Her body was rejecting the new tissue, and infections ravaged her fragile body. Eventually, she slipped into a coma. Amanda Post died on May 17, 2009, two weeks before the San Diego Marathon.
Hudson spent five months training to run a marathon for Post. Now she felt lost.
“I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me,” Hudson said. “Not only did I not want to run 26 miles, but I didn’t even want to function. I didn’t want to do anything, but then I thought that she would never want me to just stop and give up and quit. She wants me to be out there running and I knew she was going to be out there laughing at me as I look disgusting at mile 20. I knew she’d want me to run the race just the same as I would if she was alive.”
On May 31, 2009, Hudson completed the San Diego Marathon in five hours and 12 minutes. When she finished, five years of sickness, health, love and loss came rushing back.
“It was emotional,” Hudson admits. “I was lucky to survive my own cancer battle, and I was running for Amanda, who didn’t survive. Just knowing that she was with me during the race and I wanted to finish for her and her family.”
On Saturday, Oct. 31, 2009, Hudson will suit up for her final college soccer match for VCU when it faces James Madison at SportsBackers Stadium. It will be the end of a 16-year relationship that gave her an endless supply of good times and helped her through some of her worst. It’s also a sport that gave Post hope as she fought her own cancer battle.
“I’ve been playing soccer for 16 years, and it’s an amazing gift,” Hudson said. “[For Amanda] going into her freshman year, soccer was everything to her. She kept telling my sister how all she wanted to do was get better so she could play.”
There’s hardly a day that goes by that Hudson doesn’t think about Post. She misses the texts, the school-break visits and the e-mails. Hudson admits that it’s still not easy to talk about her.
“It’s hard. There are a lot of emotions there,” Hudson said. “I just hurt so bad for her family. She never got to live. I feel guilty almost, for surviving and having an easier time with it. I wish so many times I could trade places. I’m older. I should deal with the harder one. I could give her mine. It just wasn’t meant to be that way.”
This spring, Hudson will add a master’s in social work to the bachelor’s in psychology she earned at the University of Richmond from 2004-2009. She wants to work with sick children. She wants to mentor them and give them a person to talk to, a shoulder to cry on and a friend to dream with. Mostly, Hudson wants to help the kids deal with a very real life or death situation. It’s a profession for which she is well qualified.
“I want to be able to help others like [Amanda] who are going through it,” Hudson said. “Any child who has an illness, it’s unfair and unfortunate in the worst way, and I want to be able to be there. They all have their own story and hers was the crazy, spunky fighter.”
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