The long battle and road to recovery for Courtney Makinen

January 2, 2019

Junior Courtney Makinen (Oconomowoc, Wis.) of Marian University softball has been through the routine two times already. A few hectic weeks before finals, take your finals, then plenty of time to unwind at home and continue to get in shape for the upcoming softball season. Unfortunately, nothing about this year would be relatively close to routine for Courtney. Courtney was forced to take this semester off when she was diagnosed with that dreaded disease that has impacted so many, cancer.

Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare form of bone cancer found in children and young adults as old as 20. It was discovered in Courtney’s back when it nearly destroyed her fourth vertebrae. She thought it was a minor injury from lifting weights over the summer or complications from an earlier back injury in high school, but it turned out to be much more. After countless diagnostic tests, stem cell collections, and biopsies, it was determined there were also tumors in her arm and a volleyball-sized tumor in her abdomen. Courtney was referred to the Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee because Ewing’s Sarcoma is considered a children’s form of cancer. She was immediately put in a back brace that went from her neck all the way down to her waist, was in a considerable amount of pain, tired from a lack of sleep, and her body was bloated from all the fluid caused by the advancement of the cancer.

She was preparing to fight the disease while knowing she would not be able to return to Marian with her teammates. Junior outfielder Gianna Esposito (Bolingbrook, Ill.) said, “I was definitely scared the first time I heard about it [cancer], but I knew she would fight through this.”

Marian University head softball coach Tony Draves noted, “This was a very difficult time for everyone, especially Courtney and her family. It seemed like all news was bad news and there was so much uncertainty surrounding her deteriorating condition and the upcoming treatments.” This gave everyone a glimpse into the incredible support system Courtney had and still has, led by her parents, Debbie and Jeff, along with her older brother Jordan (22), sister Casey (18), and younger brother Jeffrey Jr (12). It was now time to start treatment.

Courtney had no idea what to expect when chemotherapy started, “It was awful. They were pumping me full of fluids and chemo. I was vomiting multiple times per day. I was angry. I was sad. All types of emotions, none were positive.” Courtney would have been allowed to go home between rounds of chemotherapy if her numbers were good, but they were not where they needed to be at the beginning, which meant a hospital stay of 17-straight days. Courtney was due for some good news.

Luckily, there was good news. Scans showed the initial chemotherapy treatments had shrunk the tumors much more than expected. “You could feel Courtney and her family growing in confidence as positive results started coming in,” commented Draves.

Courtney was then scheduled for two surgeries in her abdomen to remove what was left of the tumors and internal organs impacted by cancer. The success of prior treatments reduced the amount that needed to be removed, which shortened the recovery considerably. With the combination of exceptional medical professionals, determination, family support, and the well-wishes of many, Courtney made it through both surgeries and was ready for what was next. This was an exciting time for the team because Courtney felt so good she was able to attend a Marian University women’s hockey game, and attend the Marian University softball Christmas party with her teammates.

With recovery from the first rounds of chemotherapy and the surgeries going well, the doctors decided the next step for Courtney was to simultaneously get more rounds of chemotherapy while also getting radiation treatments to target specific areas impacted by the cancer. The combination of treatments started on December 19 and will continue throughout most of the winter. The combination of treatments has been difficult, but Courtney remains determined to stay on course with the aggressive approach, which is a testament to her toughness and why she has inspired so many during this difficult journey.

“Her positivity is inspiring”, said junior outfielder Taylor Lauscher (Green Bay, Wis.). “She’s been positive and confident from the beginning.”

“We have a motto we use each season to help inspire us and achieve our goals, and this year we’ve decided our motto will be ‘For Courtney’,” said Draves. When asked about the motto for the 2019 season, Lauscher replied, “It was pretty emotional when we decided to dedicate our season to her. It meant a lot to me and it means a lot to her too.” Coach Draves added, “The choice of the motto in Courtney’s honor was easy. Courtney and the Makinen family have shown us so much about strength and courage, and have graciously allowed us to be part of the healing process for Courtney.”

Jeff and Debbie Makinen said of their daughter, “We are so proud of Courtney with the way she has faced this disease and the endless and often difficult treatment she has had to endure. She has maintained a never-ending strength and courage that impresses us each day, always with a smile on her face.”

While Courtney has inspired many through her journey, she would be quick to give credit to others who also inspire her to keep fighting, starting with her family. Courtney said, “Thank you to my mom and dad for everything they’ve done. They put their whole life on hold for me. My mom put her job on hold and my dad does a lot of driving back and forth. He also does many things that used to be done by my mom. I would not be able to do it without them and my siblings.” Courtney said she has also drawn strength from many in the Marian community. “The support from the Marian University athletic teams and everyone from Marian has really helped me through some tough days. To all my professors that have reached out, I can’t thank them enough. Everyone at Marian University has helped in some way. They’ve all been amazing.”

“We want to thank the entire Marian University community for the support Courtney has received throughout this process,” added Courtney’s parents.

So what’s next for Courtney? She has a lot of goals for herself and her future, but she has an excellent grip on her current reality. She knows she’s come a long way in her recovery, but there’s much work left to do. “Goal number one is obviously to defeat cancer,” said Courtney. Long-term Courtney has other goals as well, “I’d like to graduate from Marian with a degree in graphic design. Later I’d like to work in the hospital or do something to volunteer to help kids with cancer and help them understand what’s happening to them in some way. I want to give back to people because so many helped me.”