Sophomore starting back MacKenzie Greenberg was diagnosed with thyroid cancer while in high school in 2013 and has gone through surgeries and radioactive iodine treatments ever since with another treatment taking place later this year.
EASTON – There will be thousands and thousands of college students competing in various sports from coast to coast throughout this academic year.
They will be trying to balance a challenging classroom workload with a hectic athletic schedule that includes practices, games and travel while dealing with the typical bumps and bruises.
Then there is Stonehill College sophomore MacKenzie Greenberg of Mendon, who has much more than academics, sports and bumps and bruises on her plate.
Greenberg is majoring in both biology and psychology and starting as a back for the Skyhawks' nationally ranked field hockey team – and she is doing all of that while continuing a battle against cancer that began in the spring of 2013.
Diagnosed with thyroid cancer while a sophomore at Hopedale High School, Greenberg has undergone surgeries and radioactive iodine treatments ever since.
There were more tumors discovered in her neck this past July, and Greenberg will have to undergo another series of radioactive iodine treatments later this year.
That, however, has not stopped her from continuing to be a double major or from earning a spot in the starting lineup of the fifth-ranked Stonehill field hockey team after appearing in four games as a freshman last fall.
"Going to school and playing sports makes me feel like I don't have cancer,'' said Greenberg, who also has a case of pneumonia at the present time. "It keeps me going. If I just laid on the couch at home and didn't do anything, I'd just be waiting for everything to fall apart. I wouldn't be functioning.''
The Skyhawks are hosting Franklin Pierce University tonight at 7 p.m., at W.B. Mason Stadium in their annual Play For Cure Game when donations for cancer research will be accepted.
The fight that Greenberg is waging gives that cause even more of a special meaning this year.
"It is,'' said Stonehill coach Susan Ciufo, "just incredible what she is doing. If we lose a ball (at midfield), she's the fastest person sprinting back.''
Greenberg, whose wrote a 132-page book on dealing with the illness, learned she had thyroid cancer after undergoing a routine physical in April 2013. The thyroid and more than 20 lymph nodes were removed during an operation at Boston Children's Hospital in June of that year.
A few months later, she went through the first round of radioactive iodine treatment but, in the summer of 2014, a year after the initial surgery, more tumors were discovered and another surgery was needed to take out 20 more lymph nodes.
Not long after her senior year at Hopedale High began that fall, Greenberg learned there were more tumors, this time in her lung, and another series of radioactive iodine was required.
The treatment includes going on a no iodine diet, a full-body nuclear scan followed by a dose of iodine then a couple of days in quarantine.
That is what Greenberg will be going through again later this year after the new tumors were discovered on both sides of her neck this past summer.
Greenberg keeps moving forward despite all that has happened, refusing to feel sorry for herself.
"I find it better not to have a pity party,'' she said. "Hopefully this is the last round of radioactive iodine and there'll be no more surgeries. So far, 2016 has been my first surgical-free year.''
Greenberg chronicled what she went through in high school after the initial diagnosis by publishing a book in 2015 called, "Living With The Ribbon'' with the help of some of her teachers.
"A couple of my teachers joked I should write a book going from being perfectly healthy to having metastatic cancer,'' said Greenberg, whose twin sister, Morgan, is also on the Stonehill field hockey team. "Over the summer as I was recovered I was very bored. I couldn't do anything. I started writing journal entries.
"When I was diagnosed, there was no literature for people my age who had thyroid cancer. It's typically something middle-age people deal with. It's very rare in pediatrics and usually doesn't metastasize.''
Greenberg has given public speeches about the illness, attending the Care Fest in Washington, D.C., in September.
"I didn't have any intention of doing that,'' said Greenberg of making speeches. "The book destroyed the hope of not being in the spotlight. There's been a lot that's come out of it. You change as a person. I don't love speaking but, if that's the way to raise awareness, I'll do it.''
Greenberg hasn't addressed her teammates about what she is going through but will in the near future as the process for radioactive treatment begins later this year.
"I think some people have an idea I'm starting it again,'' said Greenberg, who intends to finish out the season before undergoing the latest round of treatment. "I'm not the type of person who wants the attention or for them to feel like I'm anything less than them on the field.
"I don't notice (being sick) when I'm playing. If we do a lot of running or if a game is very high intensity, you might notice it a little in the second half, but you can always keep pushing a little bit.''