MOSINEE – The Mosinee girls volleyball team had a roughly two-hour practice last Friday afternoon, with players going through drills and skill-improvement work a night after a win over Wausau West and a day before heading to Minocqua for a conference tournament.
Practices can seem monotonous at times, as the Mosinee players are a month into a high school season that hopefully will stretch into early November. But for Megan Priest, the opportunity to be in the Mosinee gym Friday meant more than just an opportunity to work on her hitting.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore middle hitter had been medically cleared by her doctors to compete just hours before practice started. It also was the first team setting for the three-sport athlete since she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer earlier this summer.
“It’s so awesome,” said Priest, who also is a member of the Mosinee girls basketball and softball programs. “I’m an athlete, and being away from sports has made me really sad. Now that I’m back with my family it feels a lot better. It feels like I have been away from home.
“It’s nice to be back out on the court and hitting a ball again,” Priest added. “Me and Brooke (Hintz) were peppering (during practice Friday) and she was like, ‘Hey, nice up.’ It just feels good to be hitting again and looking good doing it again.”
Priest will take a spot in the starting lineup Tuesday night and get some playing time as Mosinee hosts Lakeland in a Great Northern Conference matchup. The game will also be the program’s Thyroid Cancer Awareness Night with funds going toward the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund.
“(The idea) came from our seniors that maybe we could do something for Megan,” Mosinee coach Justin Jacobs said. “It also happens to be that September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, and the idea just took off from there.”
Mosinee had sold 426 T-shirts for the event through the end of last week at a price of $15 each with the proceeds going toward the MACC Fund, as well. A raffle will also be held along with a serving contest between the second and third sets, in which individuals can try their luck at hitting different spots of the court with a serve.
“Megan is a part of our family,” Jacobs said.
Priest played junior varsity volleyball last year and was expected to compete for a varsity spot for Mosinee this season. The first signs of her medical concerns came in the early summer as she began suffering severe fatigue.
“I would come home from (AAU basketball) practice and would fall asleep instantly and things just were not normal,” Priest said. “I could usually go nine hours a day doing training and feel fine, but this summer it was just awful.”
Priest’s mother, Mandy, said her daughter is also involved with a number of activities and clubs outside of sports and thought initially Megan was perhaps just overdoing things and also just tired from the travel requirements of AAU basketball.
“She is not a complainer, but when she, ‘Mom, I just can’t do it. I feel that I can’t run down the court anymore.’ That is when I started thinking, ‘Something is not right here.’ She was also putting some weight on, which also was concerning because she was so active,” Mandy said. “(Thyroid issues) are genetic in my family, I had my thyroid (removed) but not until I was 30, and my mom did too. I wasn’t expecting Megan at 15 to show signs of that.”
Priest ultimately had an ultrasound and a nodule was found on her thyroid. A biopsy of the nodule showed it was cancerous, and 10 days later Priest had surgery in Marshfield.
“When you hear (cancer), there is so much on your shoulders and you’re not sure how you are going to process it all,” Priest said. “I kind of sat in bed all day (at first) and didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just kind of processed everything and it really hit me that I actually had cancer.”
Priest began her treatment sessions in August, which also was a reason for her missing the first week of school. She returned to the classroom the next week, however, to be around her friends and the school setting in general.
"People were telling me, 'You are so lucky that you got to miss the first week of school.' I was like, 'No, not really,'" Priest said.
Priest also returned to the Mosinee volleyball team and has been a fixture on the team's bench during the season so far.
“Going to the game and sitting on the bench with everyone has meant a lot to be around that family,” Priest said. “(Last Thursday against West,) we won in five (sets) and the crowd was really riled up during it. I’m not actually allowed to be screaming, and that was really hard because the game was really emotional. It’s hard to watch the games and try and not get too excited because I’m really close with them."
Mosinee senior right-side hitter Halle Nest has known Priest since her elementary school days. Nest's sister, Hanna, a sophomore on the Mosinee volleyball team, has been friends with Priest since preschool.
"I can't imagine what she is going through, but I tell myself every game that I'm going to play for her," Halle said. "She is dealing with so much right now, but the fact that she is still thinking about (the team) and wanting to come out and support us means a lot."