ANDOVER — For anybody watching the Hurricanes Swim Team practice at the Andover/North Andover YMCA, 16-year-old Maria Splaine is hard to miss. She’s the only girl not wearing a cap, revealing the telltale sign of ongoing chemotherapy — no hair.
Despite being five cycles into her treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Maria refuses to miss a Monday practice, never mind take a break from competing.
That fierce determination has led some of the youths on her 200-member swim team to declare the start of each week “Maria Monday” in celebration of their teammate and her courage.
Splaine, a junior at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen who lives in Merrimac, was diagnosed with the treatable form of cancer in mid-October.
She knew something was amiss when her athletic strength took a dive, just as lumps started forming on her neck, she said.
“I could train, but I couldn’t race as well anymore,” she recalled. “I didn’t feel sick. I actually didn’t mentally feel like this was real.”
The news was like “a punch in the gut, completely out of the blue,” her father, David Splaine, said.
“She had always been really tough, really healthy, and she would have been the last person in the world you would have thought would have this,” he said.
Just before Thanksgiving, Splaine began her first of six, month-long cycles of chemotherapy. While each round of treatment initially takes her out of the pool, within days she’s back in the water. regaining her strength and remaining competitive, her coaches say.
Yesterday, one day before she was scheduled to begin her final round of treatment, her coaches offered a powerful show of support.
They gave Splaine an electric trimmer and bowed their heads.
“I’m kind of nervous. I’m sorry if I screw it up,” said Splaine as she began the task at hand.