Tennis Team Cheers for Chickaroo

by Nancy DuVergne Smith on February 11, 2011

in Campus Culture, Public Service, Student Life

Guest Blogger: Karina Pikhart ’09

Before a match, Caroline joins the team lineup including Leslie Hansen,(from left Anastasia Vishnevetsky, and Yi Wang.

Before a match, Caroline joins the team lineup including Leslie Hansen (left), Anastasia Vishnevetsky, and Yi Wang. Photo: Karina Pikhart

In the fall of 2008, the newest member of the MIT women’s tennis squad—“Chickaroo” was her nickname—stood at 3-foot-something. At only eight years old, she preferred to bounce around the court rather than obey the instructions of Coach Carol Matsuzaki ’95, ’96. Before a match, Chickaroo would stand in the center of the team huddle, make her meanest face, and growl, “We’re gonna get ‘em!”

“We’re gonna get ‘em!” is also the cheer that we all give Caroline when we visit her at her second home, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There, the tennis team gathers around Caroline and participates in her favorite waiting-room crafts—coloring, painting, and playing with glitter and pipe cleaners. Her parents are exhausted from the day’s eight-hour long stay, with visits to the oncologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, and ophthalmologist, among others. All we can do is offer a little comfort simply by being present. We are humbled by the unspeakable fact that no matter how exhausted we feel after a day of hard-fought tennis matches, it is simply no match for the Hamiltons, who are fighting the battle of their lives.

The Friends of Jaclyn program, which pairs young brain tumor patients with varsity sports teams at universities across the U.S., first came to MIT in the form of Caroline Hamilton, whose inoperable, incurable, plum-sized tumor was found lodged deep in her brain when she was only six years old. Included in that gift to the women’s tennis team are her two brothers, Will and Aidan, and her parents, Sarah and Rick. The team has since latched onto the family, joining them at the Jimmy Fund walk, meeting them at their home in Methuen, MA, and throwing a fund-raising tennis tournament in Caroline’s honor. The team hopes to support the life of Caroline and her family in any way they can—to be the best big sisters Caroline could ever ask for, to play with her on the good days, and be a source of joy and hope on the days when smiles are hard.

Every story ought to have a beginning, middle, and end, but frankly, I don’t have one today. When does the story of being a big sister end? Caroline’s tumor has grown recently, and she has begun a new experimental oral chemo treatment. The end is unknown, but in these circumstances, you learn to appreciate what you do know, to live in the moment, and celebrate the now. And what we know is that Caroline has quite a big heart for her age—and quite a big smile for a girl in her circumstances. She is our star and our Chickaroo.

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