LA GRANGE – Lyons Township freshman Allie Kuhlman simply wants to play basketball.
Every game and practice are victories for Kuhlman and her freshman teammates as the guard from La Grange continues radiation treatment for lymphoma that was diagnosed in mid-December.
“I focus on just mainly having fun, really not many how points I score,” Kuhlman said. “It always gives me something to look forward to during my cancer treatments. I’m always eager to go out and play basketball with this team.”
Kuhlman especially was eager to play Glenbard West on Jan. 19. The game was part of the LT girls basketball program’s annual Cancer Awareness event.
In support of Kuhlman, this year’s money raised will go toward lymphoma research. The usual event T-shirts in pink representing breast cancer added two green ribbons, the color representing lymphoma, and the phrase “All in for Allie.”
Kuhlman, who started her second four-treatment cycle of chemotherapy Jan. 17, has played in seven of LT’s 11 games since her diagnosis.
“We hope that on the better side of what’s happening, just because Allie has the diagnosis, she doesn’t change who she is. If something affects you, it doesn’t necessarily have to change what your core personality is,” freshman A teammate Anna Bryant said. “We always look forward when she comes to our games and all of the practices.”
Freshman A coach Morgan Gallagher, freshman B coach Jill Keeve and the players haven’t treated Kuhlman differently. Support still is there for all to see. Freshman players wear green wristbands. For games, the wristbands are placed around their ankles.
On players’ and coaches’ shoes, Kuhlman’s A.K. initials and uniform No. 23 are written in green or purple, her favorite color. When Kuhlman last week decided to cut her hair and get fitted for a wig, teammates joined her and now wear matching blue headbands.
“I really like it because I feel more comfortable wearing a headband,” Kuhlman said. “I really appreciate it. Even when we’re not playing basketball, I see a lot of people wearing the green bracelets and that’s really supportive.”
“Coach Keeve and I talk so much about how Allie inspires us,” Gallagher said. “You normally think, ‘I’m going to look up to a role model, someone older,’ but she is just the most positive. It pushes me to do things in my life differently because she holds herself so well.”
Glenbard West won the varsity game 61-39. For the freshman A game, the upstairs gym was packed. LT lost 27-22, but nearly rallied after Kuhlman banked in an electrifying 3-pointer.
“She’s been a rock star,” LT varsity coach Meghan Hutchens said. “Our community is really willing to back and support us as individual people and as a program. You walk up there and see the boys basketball team, community members come out and emailing me for T-shirts. The support in that gym was awesome. They’re screaming. I hear them doing our fight song. That’s what it’s all about.”
Kuhlman can thank basketball for an earlier diagnosis. After her Dec. 14 game at Oak Park-River Forest, Kuhlman went to immediate care for a possible concussion, but her left arm also began turning dark and her finger twitched. When those symptoms returned two days later, she visited her doctor and was sent to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago for a biopsy.
“I guess if I wasn’t for basketball, I wouldn’t have known,” Kuhlman said. “When I was more active, [my arm] was turning more blue because the lymphoma was cutting off my veins and arteries.”
Kuhlman, who moved from Chicago in sixth grade, has gained close friends through basketball. Teammates Ryan Maley and Natalie Moran became Chicago Lockdown traveling basketball teammates in sixth grade. Bryant and Brigid Dunne also attended Park Junior High.
Dunne visited Kuhlman at Laurie Hospital before the diagnosis. Dunne was among the first to learn the result before Gallagher and Keeve addressed the team at practice.
“Allie is the same person that she always was before she got diagnosed with cancer,” Dunne said. “She didn’t let it change her attitude or anything. She’s really positive and practices just as hard as everyone else and is just the same old Al.”