PART 2: The resiliency of Indian Hills' Erin Kuba
Part one of Erin Kuba’s story can be seen here.
OTTUMWA, Ia. – The year is 2012, the month is May and the day the first; a day when a routine check-up was anything but for Erin Kuba.
“It's kinda weird, I left there with a possibility of knowing that it could be cancer and I just had a gut feeling that it was,” said Kuba.
Kuba's parents, Mike and Tammi, both have a hereditary condition called Hashimoto’s disease. The condition leads to an underactive thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of your neck. Doctor’s visits were already going to be a part of Erin's life but thyroid cancer was a shock.
“It's certainly something that you're never prepared for as a parent,” said Mike.
Only 14 years old and nearing the end of eighth grade, Kuba was ready to attack the disease.
“I remember her coming and knocking on my bedroom door and she's like mom we have got to be okay because I need you guys to be okay because I'm gonna be okay,” said Tammi. “She really brought strength to our family in the way that she handled it.”
“She's just views it as; you know what god gave it to me because he knew some other girl couldn't handle it,” said Mike. “She took that and ran with that.”
On May 12, Kuba surgically had her thyroid removed as well as the surrounding lymph nodes. As part of the treatment she also went through two treatments of radioactive iodine pills.
“Basically you go in there and um a guy in a hazmat suit hands you these pills that are radioactive. And you take them and you just have to be quarantined for about three days. And it’s supposed to kill all the thyroid tissue. So I did that which is the treatment along with surgery,” said Kuba.
All of this was just in time for the start of Cedar Rapids Jefferson's softball season which played its first game on May 22nd.
“It has always been my goal to be a five-year varsity starter. Obviously getting diagnosed, I knew that probably wasn't gonna happen,” said Kuba. “It took a few weeks to obviously recover from the surgery itself and get my medication regulated which was another big part of it after going from having an underactive one to not one at all.”
“It was rough. She had to get used to her body all over again,” said Mike.
Without a thyroid gland Kuba could have a surge of energy one day and then as she describes it feel like a zombie the next. Even so, she didn't let it stop her from playing five years of softball at Jefferson making the state tournament three years in a row.
“You know Tammi and I were just talking one night and we said you know what, 'she's never complained once about this whole process',” said Mike.
“Even though she was scared on the inside, she portrayed herself very strong and carried herself very well handled herself better than most kids, than most adults might handle it,” said Tammi.
“I look at it as each day give 100% of what you have, even if you don't feel 100%,” said Kuba.
A good mindset for what has been a five year journey.
Playing through cancer in high school was not the end for Erin Kuba’s she wanted to reach the next level, that's when Indian Hills came into the picture.
“I always had a dream of playing as high as I can for college softball,” said Kuba. “The coaching staff was awesome. I felt welcome and at home. I came here and I just knew I was at the right place with Coach North and Kylie.”
“I know a lot of people would shy away from an illness or an injury or whatever. But it made us want her on our team even more because the resilient personality that she has,” said Indian Hills softball head coach Laura North.
She arrived on campus in the fall and in October, she got the news every cancer patient wants.
“I am for the most part cancer free right now. I have to go back every six months for checkups still,” said Kuba. ”Most of the stuff that they do biopsies on has come back benign so that’s good.”
“It’s news out of this world. It’s the best thing as a parent you ever want to hear,” said Mike.
Kuba will still be on medication for the rest of her life since she is without a thyroid. New situations can always come up.
“I think it was a couple weeks in, I had a heat stroke during practice and then I had another thing kinda similar to it during practice which I never had before so that was a whole new obstacle in itself,” said Kuba.
Getting her treatment at the University of Iowa hospitals gave Kuba perspective. She and her family know she could have been stuck on the sidelines, or worse, instead of on the field.
“We have a lot to be thankful for. And really that's all we want is to hear that she's healthy and she's able to do the things that she loves,” said Tammi.
“Oh for three or two for three, I guess in my eyes she's really batting a thousand. Because to see her out on the diamond, you know competing like she'd always wanted to I guess it just means the world to us,” said an emotional Mike.
“I've always been a believer in everything happens for a reason even if you don't know it at the time yet,” said Kuba.
That reason may have been to help, a feeling she felt even back when she was first diagnosed.
“I had people in my middle school even that were going through cancer the same time as I was. One that passed away, another one had lost his leg, you see stuff like that and it made me want to give back,” said Kuba.
Kuba has forfeited birthday parties to hold events. One event she called concert for a cure and just last year a kickball event to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. Both events combined she says raised over 13 thousand dollars. She is once again planning another kickball tournament for the Cedar Rapids area and is thankful for that giving spirit.
“It's made me a better person and it's just fun to give back that way, whatever way you can,” said Kuba.
“She’s always had three missions. One is to raise awareness about cancer in general. To get more young people involved because she believes that young people that are healthy, that they would be great advocates. And then the third one would be to raise funds for research,” said Tammi. “I think it will always be part of what she does, I think she'll always be an advocate and use her story to help people because that's just who she is.”
“She is my hero because it’s somebody that I’m proud of and I’m glad that she's the person that she is,” said Mike.
The Indian Hills team put in its effort this season as well. On March 25th against Illinois Central, Indian Hills held cancer awareness games called “Strike Out Cancer”. The team had special uniforms laced with pink and Kuba threw out a ceremonial first pitch for one of the games.
We are super proud and very honored to be a part of her journey. Getting to spend a couple years with her and be a part of her life,” said Coach North. “We’ve known about her cancer and her team has known about her cancer being in practice with her and seeing the challenges, so it was a great opportunity for us to show the community and the school that you can still go and play softball and be a college athlete and be a cancer survivor. It was great to support a great cause like the American Cancer Society because we need a cure. Kids like Erin need a cure.”
Now 19 years old, Kuba hopes others remember not to give up.
“You're not the only one; you're not the first one. Fight every day, every day brings a different battle. Some days you might feel better than others but win each day and you'll win the war,” said Kuba.
Some words of wisdom from a teenager who has won several of her own battles.