“Don’t quit. Suffer now, and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Jillion Potter was at the top of her game, the captain of the USA Rugby Sevens team, and had no history of cancer in her family when she discovered a nagging lump and some swelling in her jaw. She thought it was a minor infection, but when home remedies and antibiotics didn’t get the lump to subside, she went to see a specialist. She found out it was a tumor, but her doctors weren’t overly concerned – the lump appeared benign, and Jillion was given permission to play in the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France. When she returned home, Jillion had the tumor removed.
Three weeks later she learned the tumor was cancerous, and the doctors diagnosed Jillion with Stage III synovial sarcoma – a very rare, slow growing type of soft tissue cancer – there are less than 1,000 cases a year in the United States. In a recent interview, Jillion described it as, “It was like driving a racecar. Everything is just speeding by you, that whole moment. Then you kind of stop listening. It sounds bad, and you’re kind of in shock. They were talking about cancer. They were talking about how rare it is, how big the tumor was, what that all means.” Then there were the tears before she asked, “how am I going to beat this?”
That’s the attitude she’s carried forward since – she is singularly focused on beating cancer. She’s channeling the aggression and strength she is known for on the rugby pitch into this fight. Jillion’s cancer treatment involves 21 day chemotherapy cycles that start with 4 days in the hospital. She does not like staying inside the hospital when she doesn’t have to, opting instead to go for long walks outside with her wife Carol and other crossfit friends and rugby teammates if they are around. She has named her IV pole Slim, because she says, “he’s so skinny.” During one particular round of chemo, her teammate brought in an old rugby uniform to dress Slim up like the new teammate that he is. During another one of Jill’s hospital stays, Carol said, “Jill was awake for like a total of 3 hours today. And what did she want to do? Take coloring books and games to the children’s hospital down the way.”
It’s actions like this that make it so hard to describe Jill – someone who sustained a serious neck injury playing her sport and still managed to return to play at the highest possible level, someone who causes competitors to turn over the ball and walk away just to avoid getting tackled, someone who when she gives a hug, there is no doubt in the world that she means it. Jillion is one of a kind – strong, gentle, resilient, gracious, overwhelmingly positive, and inspirational. She offered her seat, in her hospital room to someone who was visiting her – they don’t make adjectives to describe that sort of stuff.
On days when she’s up for it, Jillion goes to Front Range Crossfit to get a workout in with Carol. They fill up the rest of their time with friends, nerding out about coffee, playing with puppies, and taking cooking classes.