It was a word you rarely hear as a high school student.
It’s a reminder that you’re not indestructible, and it can shatter everything.
When the doctor says, “You have melanoma,” it can be stunning.
“It was really scary,” Destiny Andrus said of her earth-shaking episode last summer.
Needless to say, the Penns Valley senior spends a lot of time outdoors in the sun.
She played for the Lady Rams soccer team, and she’s the school record-holder in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She will compete in both events, and join the 400-meter relay team, at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University on Friday.
Yes, she’s fast.
But there was no outrunning the diagnoses she got last summer, celebrating her 17th birthday with a spot on her left cheek being sliced away and sent out for analysis.
Not long before she had learned about skin cancer and what to be watching, she had seen the spot under her eye, not far from her nose, growing during last track season and got it checked after the season. The doctor in the initial session wasn’t concerned, but soon changed her tune after the biopsy.
“The doctor said she had never seen melanoma on a case this young,” Andrus said.
A plastic surgeon performed a second incision, removing more skin from the area, leaving a small scar. She missed almost all of preseason soccer practice, returning just before the season began. She was told not to exert too much, to keep a hat on and wear lots of sunscreen. She had a large bandage on her face, drawing questions from opposing players.
“They’d get all scared,” Andrus said. “I’d say, ‘It’s OK. It’s gone now.’ It was tough, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from doing sports. I knew if I sat there and pouted about it, I was just going to regret it later.”
Penns Valley track & field coach Kendyl Paolini was impressed by Andrus’ perseverance.
“I would say she was more driven when she came back last fall,” Paolini said. “Track is definitely her main sport, but even in soccer you could see it. The burn was there to succeed. She wasn’t sure how long her body was going to hold out, and she gave it everything she had every time she was on the field, every time she was on the track.”
Track is definitely her main sport, but even in soccer you could see it. The burn was there to succeed. She wasn’t sure how long her body was going to hold out, and she gave it everything she had every time she was on the field, every time she was on the track.
Kendyl Paolini, Penns Valley track & field coach, on Destiny Andrus
That was not the end of her health issues, however.
She’s been battling calf injuries and shin splints this spring, and then there was a losing battle with the wind right before track season opened in late March.
A gust picked up the landing mat from the high jump pit and landed on Andrus as she raced down the track. It pinned her to the ground, hurt her back, scrapped up her face and side, and broke her nose.
“Just looking back now and thinking about it,” she said, “I start laughing.”
There’s nothing like being an injury magnet when you’re trying to perform your best.
“You just never know with her,” Paolini laughed.
They have their fingers crossed Andrus makes it to this weekend.
She holds the Penns Valley marks in the 100 at 12.44 seconds and in the 200 at 25.51, the latter also breaking the District 6 meet record last week. Also last Tuesday, she joined Marissa Stecko, Maci Ilgen and Valerie Hosterman to run a time of 50.17 seconds in the 400 relay. They were a mere three-tenths of a second off the school record.
The senior is liking the team’s chances of breaking that mark this weekend, and of getting some individual success as well.
“I’m a lot more excited,” said Andrus, who advanced to the semifinals in the 100 at the PIAA meet last spring but didn’t do as well in the 200. “Last year I was really nervous. This year I’m seeded a lot better, so I’m just going to try to keep my nerves under control and hopefully come out with a medal.”
She is seeded 10th in the 200 for the state meet, 16th for the 100 and the relay team is 11th, based on times from the district championships.
“I think she’s just been an underdog in general,” Paolini said. “She’s been clawing her way back all season. … I spoke to her (Monday) about it and she said, ‘Oh well, whatever, I’m used to it. I’ll make it happen.
“Her attitude is the best part about her.”
Having three teammates to join her in the Shippensburg dorms, and on the track, also helps.
“We’re a fun group of kids,” Andrus said. “We’re going to hope to make a lot of memories with this. It’s always fun to have your friends go up with instead of going there alone.”
Andrus is planning to attend Penn State this fall, studying veterinary medicine. She has a dog, two cats and a lizard at home, and is annually wandering the barns at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair not far from home.
Before she returns to the barns, there is work to do in Shippensburg — provided nothing else gets in her way.
“So far it hasn’t stopped me,” Andrus said of her injuries. “I’m hoping it doesn’t.”