Help support sidelined Women's Eagle Potter
"We have her jersey here waiting for her to get back onto the field."
BOULDER, Colo. – USA Rugby is saddened to hear Eagle Jillion Potter was recently diagnosed with Stage III Synovial Sarcoma.
Potter was with the Women’s Eagles in France for the 2014 IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup last month and helped the Women’s Eagles Sevens earn bronze at the 2013 IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens in Russia last year.
“Following the 2013-14 Women’s Sevens World Series, and during my time away from the Olympic Training Center, I woke up one morning in June with swelling underneath my jaw,” Potter said. “At first, I thought it could be a type of infection or a blocked salivary gland. After various home remedies and a round of antibiotics, the swelling had not decreased and my tongue was beginning to press up against the roof of my mouth. After six week had passed, the swelling was progressively getting worse.”
Upon returning from the Eagles’ UK Tour in July, Potter went to an ENT specialist at the University of California, San Diego, who performed an ultrasound that revealed a tumor. An inconclusive biopsy and an MRI revealed what appeared to be a benign tumor, freeing Potter for selection to the Eagles’ World Cup squad.
“The team returned from the World Cup on August 18, and I was scheduled for surgery on August 20. Once the tumor was removed, it was sent to pathology for analysis. Three weeks later, we found out it was cancer.
“It’s difficult describing the first few thoughts that were going through my mind when I heard about my diagnosis. My immediate reaction changes minute to minute, hour by hour, and day by day. The most common emotions I felt were denial, anger, fear, and sadness, but more importantly: hope.”
“You never expect to hear news like that,” Jillion’s wife, Carol, said. “It was, as you can imagine, an abrupt shift in our reality and incredibly scary. Still, even in those fearful moments, I had no doubt that Jillion could face this challenge just like all the others she has faced – with strength, determination, and poise. She is, hands down, the strongest person I know.”
Synovial Sarcoma is a type of soft tissue sarcoma, a slow-growing, painless mass found in about one to three individuals out of a million each year. For the next six to eight months, Potter will focus on beating cancer. After speaking with doctors at UCSD and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, her recommendations are “AIM” chemotherapy and radiation post-chemotherapy. Additional treatment will be based on reaction to the first round of treatment and subsequent scans.
“The good news is that Dr. Benjamin at MDA also said that there were very few doctors outside of MD Anderson that he would trust to administer the treatment, and one of them happens to be in Denver,” Potter said. “That means I get to be home during treatment. Hooray for small victories!”
This is not the first time Potter has had to deal with an off-the-field health issue. After claiming a spot on the Eagles’ roster with multiple game-changing performances in the build-up to the 2010 IRB Women’s Rugby World Cup, she suffered a severe neck injury during a match against Canada.
“Not only was I facing a devastating injury, but I was dealing with a reality no athlete ever wants to go through – the possibility of never playing again. Fortunately, the surgery was incredibly successful and I was told I would be able to compete again.”
Potter returned to rugby as a coach at the University of New Mexico and reached the point where she was ready to get back onto the international stage. She put on the USA Rugby jersey for the first time in almost two years in Las Vegas in 2012 and was offered a Residency contract at the Olympic Training Center later that year.
“My rehab and return back to the sport is due largely to my fellow USA teammates, family, and friends. A little over a year after my injury I was able to start playing rugby again and a few months after that I was back to international competition.”
The Women’s Eagles Sevens are just months away from beginning their Olympic qualification road to Rio with Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens, the first stop of the 2014-15 IRB Women’s Sevens World Series.
“As a team we’re preparing for the Series as if it’s just another injury, but in typical Jillion Potter style: with a smile on your face and a lot of courage,” Women’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Ric Suggitt said. “We know Potts is in good hands and she’s going to be in good shape by the end of it. Her perseverance and work ethic will be good in dealing with something like this.
“We’ve got a great team around her with a lot of support. We have her jersey here waiting for her to get back onto the field.”
“No one that I know is better equipped to take on this fight than Jillion,” USA Rugby Chief Executive Officer Nigel Melville said. “We will provide her with all the support that we possibly can.”
The USA Rugby Trust has set up a donation page for the costs of Potter’s treatments not covered by her insurance, including deductible and co-pays, travel expenses, treatment and incidentals, and nutrition counseling. Any and all donations are welcomed and accepted. Funds raised exceeding the $16,400 goal will be donated to The Sarcoma Foundation of America.