Athletics | Response Magazine

Basketball coach Sasha Anderson beats breast cancer with team support

In sports and in life, if you don't share the journey, it's not quite as joyful to share the victory.

Seattle Pacific women’s basketball assistant coach Sasha Anderson believes that.

For the past year, she has lived it, as she shared with her SPU community and her family every moment, emotion, and feeling of her journey with breast cancer.

“We have so much to learn from others all the time. How are we going to learn if we don’t share and expose our journey and struggles?” says Anderson, who is now cancer-free and back to coaching the Falcons. “That’s how I navigated through it — I sure wasn’t alone.”

This journey began for Anderson in 2014, when she felt a lump in her breast. The doctor told her to watch for certain symptoms, which never materialized. Two years later, she was 38 and recovering from a back injury in the autumn when she noticed the lump grow dramatically. It grew from the size of a lemon seed to the size of a Lego in 24 hours. She went to a doctor, who ordered a mammogram and a biopsy.

Two days later, she got a call: It was breast cancer. The cancer wasn’t where Anderson initially felt the lump, though. It was everywhere else, spread throughout her breast like tiny grains of sand, too small to be felt or seen without imaging.

First, she felt numb. Then, she called her high school sweetheart and husband of 20 years, Lance. She cried on the phone.

Looking back, Anderson says that was one of the darkest points of her life, but it only lasted a moment.

“Within what felt like seconds, all the feelings came on,” she says. “Just as quickly, I was at peace. A Bible verse popped into my head: ‘The Lord will fight for you. You need only be still’” (Exodus 14:14).

What followed was a whirlwind of doctors’ visits, leading to surgery in late March 2017. When Anderson and her husband headed to the hospital, they did so surrounded by a supportive family, literally and figuratively.

Anderson’s children had practiced team cheers around the house for the past month. The SPU women’s basketball team came to her aid, and senior Falcon Courtney Hollander watched her children the day of her surgery.

The surgery went smoothly, but Anderson found that one of the toughest parts of her journey was recovery, when she had to do nothing and let people wait on her. Former Falcons Molly Grager and Stacey Lukasiewicz visited her, and current Falcon Erica Pagano drove her kids to basketball practice.

“I never had to be alone,” she says.

Basketball has been as integral to Anderson’s breast cancer recovery as it was in her life leading up to the diagnosis. This spring, she helped coach the women to a win in the Play for Kay Women’s Cancer Awareness Night game against Western Oregon University in February. The event, which is named for Kay Yow, a women’s basketball coach who died from breast cancer, marked a year from the date she had announced her breast cancer journey at the same game in 2017.

Anderson’s advice to others who may take a similar journey?

“Don’t try to navigate it on your own, but let others carry you and walk with you,” she says. “Allow yourself to find the good, and let people in.”

After all, it is more joyful to share the victory if you have shared the journey.

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