‘Cancer never conquered me’

After being diagnosed with bone cancer last February, Nicole “Colie” Dennion is ready to get on the soccer field once again.

<p>Nicole Dennion, right, with fellow teammate Mel Insley.</p>
<p>Nicole Dennion, right, with fellow teammate Mel Insley.</p>
[/caption]By Natalie Brubaker ’15

Feb. 19, 2014, was an emotional day for the Elon women’s soccer team. That was the day they sat facing their teammate and 2013 Southern Conference Player of the Year, Nicole “Colie” Dennion, as she struggled to fight back tears.

Just two days prior, Dennion had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma—bone cancer—and she had to tell her team. Known for being strong, fiercely competitive and intimidating, she was now sitting in front of her teammates looking vulnerable and scared. “As I spoke to my team, I tried not to cry, not to break down,” Dennion says.

But if there was anyone with whom she could let her guard down, it was this group. “Even before we found out about Colie, we’ve just always had a bond that really makes our team something special,” says her best friend and teammate Katie Boyle. “After Colie told the team, the bond grew even stronger.”

Soon after her diagnosis, Dennion returned home to New Jersey for treatment, surgery to remove a tumor on her side—along with three ribs—and regular chemotherapy sessions. Despite her distance from campus, she says she still felt connected to the team. It’s a bond that prompted Elon women’s soccer head coach Chris Neal and his players to initiate a campaign to raise money to help Dennion with medical expenses. The campaign, called Kickin’ It With Colie, has raised more than $35,000. Neal and his players have surpassed their initial goal of $20,000 and are now working toward raising double that. “We all promised that we would do anything to help and that she wasn’t in this alone,” Boyle says.

To help raise the money, Dennion’s teammates participated in Relay for Life at Elon and sold T-shirts with the same phrase posted in their locker room, “Never BacK Down,” emphasizing her initials, along with the motto, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” They also made stickers for cars and laptops, and bracelets that they wore during games. “Every practice and game we play, we play for Colie and until she is back on the field with us again, it will continue to be that way,” Boyle says.

Although support for Dennion started with her teammates, it certainly hasn’t ended there. The backing from the greater collegiate soccer community has been equally impressive. “I could write a book about all the support and encouragement I have gotten from others, especially the soccer community,” Dennion says. Women’s soccer teams from across the country have rallied around her by writing her jersey number on tape worn around their wrists or by raising money. A professional women’s soccer player even reached out to her to offer encouragement. “I have received cards and messages from Elon alumni and Elon family members. … To say the least, there has been an outpouring of support,” Dennion says.

She was deemed cancer free in August, and recently finished physical therapy and chemotherapy. She returned to Elon this spring semester. While conquering cancer is no small feat, Dennion says she never considered a different outcome. “My mentality from the beginning was always, ‘I’m going to beat this. I’m going to win. I’m going to come out victorious,’” she says. “I was definitely scared; it was the scariest time of my life, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I could beat it.”

Dennion no doubt first learned that tenacity on the soccer field. As player of the year, she enjoyed proving herself to any opponent who thought they could stop her, scoring 15 goals in her sophomore season. “On the field, Colie is fearless. You just watch her and it’s evident how much she loves the game,” Boyle says.

While Dennion is excited to be back on campus, she is most excited to be with her team and return to the soccer field. “It’s going to be a special day when I step out on the field for the first time again,” she says. “Cancer never conquered me.”