Anderson back after last year’s bout with cancer

The middle-distance runner was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on April 10, 2009.

Sixth year senior Gabriele Anderson returns to the track team in her final season of eligibility after undergoing treatment for cancer.

Mark Vancleave

Sixth year senior Gabriele Anderson returns to the track team in her final season of eligibility after undergoing treatment for cancer.

Derek Wetmore

On the surface, Gabriele AndersonâÄôs story seems unusual enough: A sixth-year student working to finish her MasterâÄôs degree and find training in her field, all while competing in Division I womenâÄôs track for the Gophers. But AndersonâÄôs story goes so much deeper. On April 10, 2009, Anderson was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma âÄî a rare, persistent form of cancer affecting the salivary glands âÄî after noticing discomfort and a bump on her neck. âÄúAt 22 years old you tend to take your health for granted,âÄù said the now 23-year-old Anderson. âÄúWhen I found out that it was possible that I had a cancerous tumor I was definitely scared that [cancer] could become a reality.âÄù Anderson, a middle-distance runner, was in Arizona with the womenâÄôs track team at the Sun Angel Classic when she received a call from her doctor with the diagnosis. âÄúThe first reaction was almost like having my daughter tell me,âÄù said assistant coach Gary Wilson, who works with of the womenâÄôs distance runners. While Wilson was alarmed, he said he knew if there was anyone capable of beating this disease, it was Anderson. âÄúI was pretty much just in shock,âÄù former teammate and current roommate, Heather Dorniden said. âÄúItâÄôs really scary to hear that something like that is happening to someone so close to your age and is just like you in a lot of ways.âÄù Given the option to sit out the weekendâÄôs race and prepare for the medical treatment in her immediate future, Anderson decided instead to compete in her scheduled event at the Sun Angel Classic, running a personal-best time in the 1,500-meter run. At the same meet this year, held April 10, Anderson beat that time, earning her the fifth best time in Gopher history. Her teammates and close friends have coined the phrase, âÄúmaking a Gabe faceâÄù that has become synonymous among those who have seen her fight through adversity. âÄúWhatever is going to come for Gabe, she is going to be able to handle it and come through stronger than ever,âÄù Dorniden said. Anderson will be running two different relays âÄî 4-by-800 and 4-by-1,600 âÄî this weekend at Drake. She was unable to compete in last yearâÄôs relays, but Wilson said the team wore supportive âÄúGABEâÄù patches on their uniforms as well as T-shirts with her face and the phrase, âÄúAre you this tough?âÄù âÄúGabe is tough,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúWe wore the patches at last yearâÄôs Drake Relays and the girls did really well without Gabe being there, but really Gabe was there in spirit.âÄù Anderson took between three and four months off of any real training while she was recovering from surgery and undergoing radiation therapy, she said. âÄúIt was really difficult at first when I began getting back [in August] because IâÄôve never had to work my way back from such a low level of fitness ever before,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúAs a young adult, itâÄôs a transition time for a lot of people my age âĦ You kind of just have to get comfortable with uncertainty and learn to appreciate the moment. ItâÄôs something that is definitely a cliché but thereâÄôs a lot of truth in it.âÄù Eight months after her diagnosis, AndersonâÄôs request for a fifth year of eligibility (redshirted in 2006) from the NCAA had been granted. âÄúI was really looking forward to learning that it was going to be official,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI just needed that final affirmation that I was going to get back on the track.âÄù AndersonâÄôs courage and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, as she has already received the Richard âÄúPinkyâÄù McNamara Student-Athlete Achievement Award in February 2010. The award is given to âÄúa student-athlete who has inspired all by making an extraordinary effort to succeed despite difficult circumstances, persevering during a time of tremendous adversity and/or overcoming a great challenge.âÄù She also won the womenâÄôs outstanding athlete award in 2009, which is given to one female athlete who is accomplished in the four major areas emphasized by the NCAA Life Skills Program: academics, athletics, leadership and volunteerism. In addition to her already impressive award collection, Anderson has been nominated for the prestigious Honda Inspiration Award . The award is given annually to âÄúa female college athlete who has overcome adversity to excel in her sport.âÄù Even with the awards and nominations, Anderson isnâÄôt taking anything for granted. âÄúI just want to have fun and enjoy it as much as possible,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôve put in a lot of hard work since my diagnosis, so I think the things on the track will come. TheyâÄôre just not as important as learning to appreciate being back.âÄù On and off the track, Anderson is a role model to her teammates who are learning to deal first hand with the uncertainties in life. âÄúThe biggest thing these girls have learned is perspective. You never know when your time is up,âÄù Wilson said. âÄúItâÄôs trite to say, but itâÄôs trite because itâÄôs true.âÄù As she finishes her public policy MasterâÄôs at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, Anderson said she realizes the possibility of turning her degree into advocacy for the disease and its victims. âÄúIâÄôm hoping that maybe my story will raise some awareness for rare cancers,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúIâÄôm still dealing with the reality that this is a disease that has a high rate of recurrence âĦ I just put my trust in God and modern medicine to some extent to hope that if something happens, there will be more options available to patients like myself.âÄù For the 23-year-old athlete known as âÄúthe grandmotherâÄù by teammates because of her relative age and wisdom, times are tumultuous away off the track as she prepares to wrap up college. But Anderson is doing her best to put on a Gabe face and fight lifeâÄôs battles head on.