Spending any significant amount of time with Lorelei Decker might give you the wrong impression about the visible symptoms of cancer.
Hang out with the Putnam City North senior golfer for an hour, and you'll leave thinking Hodgkin's Lymphoma causes the inability to stop smiling, an infectious positive attitude and moments of the purest optimism.
Beneath her sunny exterior, Decker has experienced all the common feelings you'd expect from a 17-year-old cancer patient since being diagnosed in late January.
Panic. Fear. Sadness.
Thoughts that cover the spectrum of worry, ranging from her own mortality to being bald at Senior Prom.
But those moments typically don't last long with Decker, and she'll be back to thinking about how excited she is to wear her new brunette wig — “I've never been brunette before,” she says with a laugh — or the pleasure in playing a golf tournament with her team.
“Through this, I've realized that it's bigger than just a golf tournament,” Decker said. “It's about my health, and having fun. So I can relax and realize that shooting 101 in a tournament is not going to be the death of me.”
Yes, she'll need a wig for prom. But she'll get to go to prom.
And yes, her radiation treatment will increase her chances of breast cancer when she's older. “But in order to get breast cancer, I have to live through this one,” she said.
Decker is getting to be a part of some memorable moments, like her upcoming Make-A-Wish Foundation event, in which she'll be Oklahoma City Thunder coach for a day.
On Friday, the Putnam City North soccer team is hosting a game that will double as a fundraiser for Decker. She'll get to sit on the bench with the team, and the players will be wearing lime green jerseys — the awareness color for Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
She misses out on things from time to time. Her golf team was in a tournament on Thursday, but she was busy with her regular chemotherapy treatment.
Survival rate for Decker's type of cancer is 80 percent or better, and the family has been encouraged by recent blood tests.
“It was just devastating to learn that Lorelei had cancer,” said PC North golf coach Tom Jedlicka. “She's a wonderful 17-year-old lady. Nobody that age should have to go through cancer of any kind. But I do believe in miracles. She's a very strong person, and I think she'll make it just fine. She's played in two golf tournaments. For someone with cancer, that's remarkable.
“I tell her or anyone else with cancer, just stay positive, say your prayers and do what the doctors tell you.”
Jedlicka knows. He beat cancer back in 2010.
Unfortunately, he learned in March that the cancer had returned in his brain and lungs. He had surgery on March 15, and the doctors think they got out all of the brain tumor, and chemotherapy is needed for the lung cancer.
But he had to step away from coaching, which he has done at PC North since arriving at the school in 1994.
Decker's smile fades when she talks about the man affectionately known as Coach Jed. He was her teacher in the fall of 2010 and encouraged her to go out for the golf team. Three months later, Decker made varsity, and now she's a team captain.
“I always thought when you had cancer, you had to wear a mask and stay away from people so you didn't get sick,” said Andrea Decker, Lorelei's mother. “But her oncologist tells her the more active you are, the better.
“If you quarantine yourself into a bubble and don't get out, you get depressed, you have muscle atrophy, your skills drop off, your confidence drops off and your immune system becomes depressed. So you get more sick.
“Golf could be saving Lorelei's life.”
Jedlicka maintains an upbeat view of life, which be believes is a key piece in winning the battle with cancer.
“I think a positive attitude is very important when it comes to a major disease like cancer,” Jedlicka said. “One thing my mother taught me was to try to stay positive in everything you do all the time.
“Lorelei and I have a special bond because we both have cancer. Hopefully we'll be able to sit around and talk about it for a long time.”
In January, Decker was at the funeral of a friend's sister, who had died from cancer, when she decided she needed to go to the doctor. She couldn't sit through the funeral because of a persistent cough.
Having dealt with asthma much of her life, Decker knew this was something more severe.
They found a rather large tumor in her chest, which turned out to be stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
She had a biopsy, then another operation to insert a port for chemotherapy, which she receives every two weeks.
Decker is about one-third of the way through her 12 rounds of chemotherapy, and at the halfway point, doctors will perform another test to check on the condition of the tumor.
“It hasn't crossed my mind that I won't beat it,” she said. “I'm young and healthy. I believe in myself and my doctors and I believe in the power of prayer — and I have a lot of prayer.”
Through all of her difficult battle, Decker's focus has remained steadily on the opportunity to help others. She hopes to organize an event to do something special for an elementary school in the Putnam City district soon.
“Through everything everyone has done for me, I have everything that I need and all the support, so I want to use this opportunity for what I've always stood for, and that's to help others,” she said.
If Decker's experiences teach anyone anything, it should be that life is as bright as you want to make it.
“No one wants to get cancer when you're 17,” Decker said. “You can feel pity for yourself and feel like you drew the short straw. Or you can find blessings each day and be grateful, and that will push you through this journey.
“You have to fight it. You're going to have to go through this, no matter what, so you might as well find enjoyment and find blessings and make good out of it.”