South Philly student overcomes Lymphoma

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String Theory School senior Alexis Carine continues with athletics despite several rounds of chemotherapy.

The South Philly community was shook when String Theory School senior Alexis Carine was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma earlier this year. But the cancer couldn’t keep the 18 year old poet, photographer, dancer, writer and athlete off the volleyball court this season. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

About a month ago, String Theory School senior Alexis Carine was apple picking at a nearby farm with her family when a butterfly landed on her shoulder.

An avid photographer, the South Philly resident quickly grabbed her camera and captured a shot of the serendipitous sight, as the insect symbolized something much deeper in her eyes.

“It was nice how it was just swarming around me,” she recalled. “I loved butterflies my whole life, and when I got diagnosed, they impacted me a lot.”

In April of this year, the teenager, whose flairs range from poetry to hip-hop, was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — a cancer that attacks lymph nodes in the neck and armpits. With no family history of the illness and fairly bearable symptoms, the news shook Carine’s friends, family and the community.

But the 18-year-old student, who was 17 years old at the time of the detection, refused to allow the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells to control any other areas of her life, as Carine finished out the school year, and although was not allowed to participate in the remainder of the softball season on doctors’ orders, made it to the games to cheer on her fellow teammates.

Even gradually starting treatment was not enough of a reason for the creative writing major to withdraw from her junior year.

“I actually stayed in school, which people were really surprised at,” she said. “It was April, so I was like, ‘Let me just ride the rest of the year out,’ which was good for me…I’d rather be with my friends and keep my mind away from it than just sit home and mope about it.”

Throughout this past summer, Carine underwent several rounds of chemotherapy treatments, averaging a three-night stay at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia every 21 days, including smaller treatment sessions on Fridays.

Following the chemo, Carine received radiation at Pennsylvania Hospital from late July to mid-August, ending just as the South Philadelphia High School girls’ volleyball practices began.

A rising senior and the new team captain, Carine, who started volleyball her freshman year, was determined to return to her team, which is comprised of girls from String Theory and the Girard Academic Music Program.

Since the squad, which went undefeated with a 12–0 record last year in the Silver Division, lost all of its senior starters, Carine would be the only returning starter playing this season leading the novice players.

Just one day after radiation ended, she was in South Philadelphia High School’s gym guiding the girls.

“I was astounded,” said Anthony Scafidi, the team’s head coach. “Every time I called her, I expected her to maybe be a little bit down or feel weak…but she was just amazingly upbeat about the entire thing.”

Scafidi recalls text messaging Carine during treatments this summer, encouraging the athlete to not push herself to attend August practices.

But Carine refused to retreat.

“I will be back better than ever in August,” she wrote back to him. “You aren’t losing me that easy.”

“I just wanted to be strong and still go on with my life and not let this hold me back from doing something that I love,” Carine said. “I feel like, it would help me grow as a person if I just kept fighting and not let these battles ruin me…I just didn’t want to quit that easily. I wanted to pull through and not let it stop me from playing volleyball, because I love volleyball. So, I didn’t want it to stop me from playing, because that would probably break me more.”

Although the team went 0–12 this season, confronting some of the best teams in the district, Scafidi says the group of 20 was not dispirited even once, incessantly supporting one another despite the losses.

The coach attributes this attitude to Carine’s optimism, feeling as though her energy innately spilled upon the other girls.

“The whole team, with her leading, never once got down,” he said. “They never bickered amongst each other. They were on the bench cheering like crazy for each other. Every point mattered, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been coaching 35 years. I’ve never seen a team as resilient as this team.’”

(GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

With volleyball drawing to a close, Carine is focused on joining either the basketball or swim team to finish out her senior year.

Even though she’s acquired passions and experience in athletics and the arts, Carine is applying to colleges across the country in hopes to study medicine, as she dreams of becoming a pediatric nurse specifically focusing on neonatology.

Carine has aspired to enter the medical field since she was a child, but she says receiving cancer treatments among young children intensified this yearning. Although Carine’s aptitudes allow for no limits in her possibilities, the 18-year-old’s attitude will ultimately lend her success.

Currently in remission, Carine is moving into the next phase of her life.

And like a butterfly, she’s ready to soar.

“I think (having cancer) taught me to keep my faith through everything, because there’s always positives through a negative, and I just feel like, if you keep the right mindset, and don’t think about being mopey and miserable, it can have a bright outlook,” she said. “And people can get very inspired. I still get inspired by other things.”