Cancer battle made me stronger

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Jessica Breland couldn't find a spot in the WNBA last season but now is contributing to the defending champion Fever.

It is often said that overcoming adversity builds character. This is certainly a statement to which I can attest, as I believe it to be one of the primary reasons I have been successful in returning to the WNBA this season.

Many people may not know that my college career was interrupted by Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that originates in white blood cells. I had no idea what it was, but I found out that I had the disease in 2009 while attending summer school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I was preparing for a tryout with USA Basketball, and before going to tryouts, I was always tired; however, I attributed this to the fact that I was working out a lot. I also had other symptoms, such as night sweats, difficulty breathing and chest pain, but thought that these symptoms were all due to something else, too.

Subsequently, I went to the doctor for a sore throat that would not go away. After mentioning my other symptoms to the doctor and undergoing several tests, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and spent the next six months undergoing chemotherapy. I missed that season of basketball. However, I was fortunate to get healthy enough to play again as a senior (2010-2011).

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Jessica Breland has learned to embrace everything she experiences, good and bad, along her life's journey.

The hardest part about playing again was regaining my weight, muscle mass and conditioning. I had dropped to approximately 140 pounds within a week of starting chemotherapy (down about 25 pounds from her average). The saying, "If you don't use it, you will lose it" is true. I struggled to regain my footwork at a top level. My post moves were slower than before, and my foot speed was gone. Getting back into game shape was tough.

When facing adversity, it is often hard to understand the "why": "Why am I going through this?" or "Why me?" I used to ask myself those questions all the time. However, once I finished chemotherapy, I could definitely see -- and can especially see now -- that this experience was a blessing. Not only because I am still able to play basketball, but because I can give hope to others facing adversity.

It is a blessing to be able to show kids that adversity does not have to dictate their future. Your dreams may be postponed, but with the right attitude and determination, you can still accomplish anything. Adversity makes you stronger, builds character and makes you better. I have learned to embrace all that I experience, good and bad, along my journey as I prepare for my next battle.

I have had many bumps in the road since my senior year at UNC. I was drafted into the WNBA and played at the beginning of my rookie year with the New York Liberty before getting cut midseason. The Connecticut Sun picked me up to finish the season. Last summer, I was cut during training camp by both the Sun and the Washington Mystics. Needless to say, I had doubts that I would be able to play at this level. I kept pushing forward and fighting, using the strength and knowledge gained from the challenges I had faced. Although I was disappointed with the outcome of my rookie season and the fact that I did not make a WNBA team last year, I continued playing professionally for the past two winters in Israel.

Since receiving a second chance in the WNBA with the defending champion Indiana Fever, I think I have become a better player. I know I am a better person, and I am thankful to have this chance again. The character traits I've developed through my experience, such as patience, respectfulness and reliability, have made me better on and off the court.

There was a period after undergoing chemotherapy during which even walking across campus to get to class was physically challenging. Now, I am playing with one of the best teams in the WNBA. Yes, I definitely believe that overcoming adversity builds character.