By Ed Niser
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Groton's Molly McGaffigan is causing a stir as a sophomore midfielder on the St. Anselm's girls' lacrosse team, but that almost didn't happen.
The second-team All-NorthEast-10 selection was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer in September of 2008. She was 15.
McGaffigan started to experience bloating around her midsection and it was during a physical examination prior to the start of the season that the doctors discovered a tumor.
"When she was diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, we didn't know if it was benign or malignant," said Molly's mother Patricia McGaffigan. "We were prepared for the very small chance that it was malignant, but we had received feedback from a lot of folks about how rare it was for a child to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer."
Molly McGaffigan was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer; her athletics' future hung in the balance. Patricia McGaffigan noted that less than 1 percent of those diagnosed with ovarian cancer are under the age of 20.
"I was diagnosed right before the start of my sophomore year," said Molly. "At first it was pretty devastating. We wouldn't know where I was going to go until after my surgery as far as if I was going to be able to continue playing sports."
When Molly went into surgery, the doctors noticed that the tumor was encased. Her tumor weighed about 10 pounds and was a foot long. Patricia McGaffigan credits the surgical team for its tactical approach to removal of the tumor.
"When she went into the doctor in the summer of 2008 her pediatrician realized that there was a very large tumor in there," said Patricia. "Had the tumor not been removed intact through the incredible skills and care of her surgical team, if it had ruptured in any shape or form, she would have had to endure chemotherapy. Because she was diagnosed at stage one, she was extraordinarily fortunate."
Molly was back on the field in a little over one month, but the memory of her battle with cancer is still fresh in her and her friends' minds.
Molly's high school alma mater, Bishop Guertin, holds a "Teal the Field" game each season to raise money for the "Ovations fund," a nonprofit organization that donates proceeds to ovarian cancer research. Since bringing the "Teal the Field" event to St. A's, Molly and her teammates have raised over $5,600.
Patricia said that the amount of money raised elsewhere for ovarian cancer by Molly's friends is much higher.
"Through Bishop Guertin, they have done five lacrosse games and ovarian cancer walks," she said. "Other forms of fundraising have brought Molly and her friends' contributions to probably well over $35,000."
Holly Drown, head coach of the St. Anselm lacrosse team, said the "Teal the Field" event is something her team looks forward to holding each year.
"Molly brought it to our team her freshman year," said Drown. "It's our most favorite event of the year. We usually get a big crowd, everybody is wearing teal, and the girls just get so into it. As the freshmen come in, she tells her story every year. It is usually a very emotional night. It is just a really special event."
The survival rate for those diagnosed with ovarian cancer in stage one is around 91 percent. Molly is free of cancer now, but there is always a possibility for it to return.
Molly, along with her mother Patricia, aim to raise awareness in the community about the risks of ovarian cancer.
"Awareness is important for everyone including women of my age and older, and even men," said Molly. "It can happen to any woman, no matter her age. Be aware of the signs and symptoms."
Patricia said the signs of ovarian cancer often go undetected or misdiagnosed.
"One of the big things we learned is that the signs of ovarian cancer are silent," she said. "There might be bloating or occasional pain. When so many of these women seek help, ovarian cancer is often not the first thing people think about. Education is important so women are diagnosed earlier and have better chances of survival."
Molly is now thriving with the Hawks' lacrosse team, which advanced to the first round of the competitive NorthEast-10 Conference Tournament. Drown said the adversity Molly endured has molded her into a strong lacrosse player.
"Molly is probably the heart and soul of our team," said Drown. "She is the anchor of our defensive unit. She literally plays with so much heart, and she is that player who always brings a spark to the field. She is just a fighter. You can tell she has been through a lot in her life."