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The Daily Tar Heel

Breland hopes ACC play will promote fund

Missed 2009-10 season due to cancer

Tar Heel senior forward Jessica Breland spent a year off the court 
battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.
Tar Heel senior forward Jessica Breland spent a year off the court battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.

Two words nearly took away senior Jessica Breland’s childhood dream of playing basketball.

“I was stunned … I didn’t even know what Hodgkin’s lymphoma was, but then the word came: cancer,” Breland said.

A year after cancer sidelined her from competition, she’s looking to the start of ACC competition as a chance for the hospital fund in her name to become widely known.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma — also known as Hodgkin’s disease — is a cancer of the immune system. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, coughing, trouble breathing and night sweats — all of which Breland had.

She knew she was sick, but didn’t think it was anything serious.

Just after classes ended in May 2009, Breland was preparing to try out for the USA basketball team for the summer when she made a visit to the office of Sylvia Hatchell, the head women’s basketball coach.

“It was a few days before she was supposed to leave to go, and she came in and said, ‘Coach, I can’t breathe,’” Hatchell said.

Doctors said she was fine, but Breland’s complaints persisted.

She’d been sick off-and-on for most of the season, so much so that Hatchell said she “ripped her about being more committed, dedicated and getting in shape.”

Hatchell was out of town when the team found out, but was on speaker for the phone call.

“I can remember the players being devastated, some tears being shed because there was a lot of anticipation and not knowing what was going to happen,” Hatchell said.

“It’s like a cloud over your head,” Breland said of her sickness. “And as much as you want the sun to come out, it’s always cloudy.”

Her treatments sidelined her from the 2009-2010 women’s basketball season, but now, after several rounds of chemotherapy, Breland has regained her strength and is back on the court as a leader on the team.

The support Breland received from her teammates and the children she met while undergoing treatment inspired her to give back. So when Hatchell approached Breland with the idea of starting a fund to give to the hospital, the 6-foot-three-inch forward took to it immediately.

“I wanted to do what I could do to help them because they are the next generation, and they have dreams. I know I had a dream and it was almost taken away from me,” Breland said.

The Jessica Breland Comeback Kids Fund got its name from the nickname Breland received when she returned to the court.

“The NCAA has labeled her as the comeback kid. Jessica says ‘Hey, all those kids over there are comeback kids,’” Hatchell said.

Hatchell encourages students to come to the games when they promote the fund, but Breland encourages students to give of themselves even outside the fund.

“Even if it’s not giving money, just saying hello to the person next to you might lift up their day,” Breland said.

Teammate Italee Lucas said she’s seen kids change their outlook after meeting Breland.

“Yes they have cancer and it’s scary,” she said. “But then they look at Jessica and they see hope.”

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