As a 17-year old high school senior, Lexe Selman had the entire world in front of her. A top-100 soccer recruit, Selman was months away from graduating from Alta High School in Draper, Utah and moving to Tucson where she would be on the front lines of the program’s rebuilding efforts. However, the exciting ride was derailed after what was supposed to be a routine trip to the doctor.
“I went in for a cold,” Selman said. She was suffering from a persistent cough and large bruises on her legs.
The doctors took blood test for chicken pox, but its results came back with eye-opening results -- results that pointed to leukemia.
“It’s kind of scary, but we didn’t know for sure,” she said. “The whole time I was just thinking, ‘please, please tell me they mixed my blood up with someone else’s. It can’t be me.’”
On April 20, 2012, a day after the first doctor visit, a second test confirmed the initial prognosis. Selman was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
She began the treatment immediately. She had “a minute to digest” that she had cancer and then went straight to her hospital room to make preparations for chemotherapy. She began the treatment the very next day.
Her dreams of competing in the premier women’s soccer conference in the country would be put on hold. She had another competition to face: a battle for her life. That didn’t stop her from using the sport she loved as therapy and motivation.
“It was hard, but I was determined to win this fight and get back to playing soccer,” Selman said. “I knew that no matter how hard it got, I always knew that I still had soccer.”
She was cooped up in a small room she could only seldom, and at times never, leave for months at a time.
“You could go crazy in there,” she remembered of the room. “Luckily I had soccer. It motivated me to do physical therapy and stay as fit as you can in a hospital room.”
In this combat she would have teammates, just as she would on a soccer pitch. She credits the outpouring of support from her family, friends, nurses, doctors and many others that offered encouragement for pushing her every day and making the battle much easier than it could have been.
She fought the disease head-on for six months, spending the majority of that time in the hospital. The fight featured four separate chemotherapy sessions that, naturally, possessed their share of ups and downs. During a particular two-week ICU bout during her third round of chemotherapy, Selman needed machine assistance to breathe, received medically-induced paralysis to limit shaking during fevers that topped out at 107 degrees.
Doctors later told the family that Selman had a “very little chance” of surviving.
Even during her darkest days, with her life in the balance, Selman approached every day with a positive outlook.
“With AML you have a 60 percent chance (to live),” she said. “They tell you that. But for me, I always felt like I would come out on top and be able to play soccer. All the support I had, especially from the soccer community, helped me push through it. My teammates (at Arizona) were so awesome.”
Selman was supposed to be tearing up Murphy Field at Mulcahy Stadium last fall; instead she was in a hospital bed in Utah fighting for her life. The 2012 Arizona squad wore warmup jerseys with the number 13 on the back, the number Selman has worn her entire life and will wear when she suits up for the Cats for her first collegiate game on August 23.
“Knowing that I had this family waiting for me at Arizona really helped,” Selman said. “They were all pushing me and cheering me on.”
Her positive attitude reigned supreme throughout her battle with cancer and she only once wavered from her confidence that she would be able to don an Arizona uniform and play soccer again.
“During my third round (of chemo), I got so sick that I couldn’t even walk,” said Selman, speaking of the point of recovery which doctors gave her very little chance of survival. “My physical therapist came and they had to lift me up and sit me in a chair. She rolled me a soccer ball and I could barely tap it back to her.”
“How the heck am I going to be able to play soccer again?” she wondered.
Now, about a year later, Selman is back on the field, practicing with her new teammates -- her new family at Arizona.
Even if she was able to survive, doctors feared Selman would not gain the lung function necessary to play a Division I sport after one lung collapsed during her third round of chemotherapy.
Recently, doctors performed a test with hopes that her lungs would be 80 percent functional. Instead, she has 120 percent lung function.
It’s been a long road back, but Selman is ready for upcoming season and ready to get her career in the cardinal and navy under way.
“I really want to be a part of the legacy that we’re going to make,” she said. “I want to be a part of the team that turns it around and makes it a winning program.”
As for herself? Selman hopes not to use cancer as a crutch.
“I don’t want to make excuses,” Selman said. “I don’t want to say, ‘oh, I didn’t play well because I’m tired because I battled cancer.’ I expect myself to act normal.”
Selman, who brings a new perspective on life to Arizona, will begin a new chapter of her life on August 23, her first game as a Wildcat. This chapter, though mentally and physically difficult at times, will undoubtedly pale in comparison to the battle she has already conquered.