Cancer can’t stop all-star Carling Muir

Thomas Haney secondary grad Carling Muir was named to the BCCAA first all-star team this season with the Langara College Falcons

Thomas Haney secondary grad Carling Muir was named to the BCCAA first all-star team this season with the Langara College Falcons

Carling Muir is hard to miss. Standing six-foot-one, the Maple Ridge forward is the heart and soul of the Langara College Falcons women’s basketball team, and when she gets the ball, there’s not much that can stop her from taking it to the hoop.

“She’s dominant,” says her coach Mike Evans. “She’s physically strong and she has a great skills package.

“She’s as a good a player as I’ve ever coached.”

It’s not uncommon for Muir to get double- or even triple-teamed by opposing defences as they desperately try to neutralize her. More often then not, they fail miserably.

However, this past season Muir was noticeable on the court for a different reason: her bald head.

Muir has a rare form of brain cancer. This past November, she underwent an aggressive round of radiation treatment in an effort to stop the growth of the tumor that resides inside of her.

After four years of surgeries and chemotherapy, the cancer Muir had fought into submission had returned with renewed vigor.

Evans was preparing for the team’s practice one day in September when his star player told him the cancer had returned.

It was a day Evans knew would come, but one he had hoped would be years away.

“The kind of cancer she has doesn’t stay dormant forever,” says Evans. “But we hoped it would be 10, 20 years down the road.”

Playing in her fourth year of B.C. collegiate basketball with the Falcons, Muir was a veteran on the team, now full of freshmen and sophomores.

“I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me,” Muir told her teammates, choking back tears. “I don’t want to be treated differently.”

None of her teammates were on the team the day, four years ago, when Muir collapsed to the gym floor after practice, and the ever-present shadow of cancer entered her life.

The team had gathered round that day to say their cheer, when Muir dropped to the ground and began to turn blue. Muir woke up in the hospital five hours later, surrounded by her family. She had two grand mal seizures, she was told, caused by a tumor in her brain the size of an egg. Three days later she went under the knife for emergency brain surgery to remove most of the tumor. Her scalp still bears a visual reminder: a scar where 40 staples held her head together.

At the time, it was almost too much to bear.

“I was angry, but I didn’t know who to be angry at,” Muir says. “I was definitely letting it take over my life.”

Her outlet was on the court. There the shadow dare not tread, and she was able to focus that energy into something productive. Muir won multiple scoring titles, helped lead her team to a provincial bronze medal in 2009, all the while undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

“The court was the one place I can be and not think about cancer,” she says. “The last thing I want is pity.”

However, this season for the first time, the cancer became apparent on the court. Once Muir noticed the first clumps of hair starting to fall out, she shaved off her long blonde hair so that it could be used as a wig for a child undergoing cancer treatment.

Her play began to deteriorate as the radiation treatments took a toll on her body.

“She was second or third in scoring in the league,” says Evans. “By her standards, that was an off year.”

Muir was also named a B.C. Colleges’ Athletic Association all-star, along with teammate and fellow Thomas Haney Thunder product Rhea Silvestri.

But she had weakened, she was tired.

The player who routinely played 40 minutes a game and would have to be dragged off the court was now asking for rest.

Cancer, it seemed, had succeeded in slowing down Muir where opposing defences had failed.

“It was hard,” she admits. “I’ve always felt like the better I played, the more I was fighting cancer.”

With her radiation treatment behind her, Muir says she’s looking forward to returning healthy for her final season with the Falcons this September. She says she wants to pursue counselling, to help other cancer sufferers keep fighting.

“A lot of times people will tell you that they understand what you’re going through, but unless you’ve had cancer, you don’t,” she says.

“I want to let people know, it’s okay to be angry.”

Even if she gets a clean bill of health, Muir knows that the odds are stacked against her reaching old age.

Not surprisingly, Muir is facing that challenge head on.

“The longest anyone has ever gone after being diagnosed with this type of cancer is 20 years,” she says matter-of-factly. “But I see no reason why I can’t set the new record.”

Evans believes her determination will help her in that fight.

“She has a fiercely competitive personality,” says Evans. “I think that’s really helped her.”

Muir has fundraised more than $10,000 for cancer research, and in 2008 was awarded the Harry Jerome Comeback Award, given to a B.C. amateur athlete who has demonstrated outstanding performance, despite having experienced an “unusual setback.”

Muir says she doesn’t think about what her life would be like without cancer. In some ways, she’s thankful for the experience.

“I hate to say it, because of what it’s put my family through, but in a lot of ways, I’m thankful,” she says. “It’s brought me a lot closer to my family, and really put a lot of things into perspective for me.”

She’s also provided a constant source of inspiration for her teammates, and her friends and family.

“She is one of the strongest people I know,” says her brother Parker. “Anyone who can go through what she’s been through, well, its pretty unbelievable.”