As a sophomore, Zandra Wade was a standout left-handed right-side hitter for the Red Mountain varsity volleyball team.
Until January of this year, Wade’s life was centered around volleyball. But then, her world was flipped upside down.
Wade was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called desmoplastic small round-cell tumor (DMSRT), a form of sarcoma. According to the St. Jude Research Hospital, fewer than 200 cases been reported. Wade has been undergoing treatment since January, putting a halt on her volleyball career.
Wade was not able to eat or drink anything for a month right after her diagnoses. She also lost her hair in the early process of chemotherapy and has undergone multiple surgeries throughout her journey.
Her hair has started growing back and is now in a pixie style haircut. On the outside, Wade looks healthy and energetic, making it hard for strangers to realize she is sick.
Before her diagnoses, Wade played high school and club volleyball. She often spent multiple days a week either practicing, playing or conditioning. She had no offseason.
Red Mountain coach Kristy Simmons described Wade as the kind of athlete every coach wants on their team.
“She was fantastic,” she said, “always just wanting to get better.”
Despite her inability to play, Wade remains a big part of the Mountain Lions. She travels to tournaments and attends any game she can. She is even introduced by the public address announcer as “the special assistant coach” before home games.
“Zandra is such a hard worker and a strong support system for this whole program that I want her here anytime she can be here,” Simmons said.
During games Zandra can attend, she can be seen on the sideline cheering on her teammates, giving high fives, talking to the other girls on the bench and participating in chants.
Her passion for the game shines through while she stays locked into the action despite not being able to step on the court. Attending games is a bittersweet feeling.
“Being able to be at the games is nice and I feel like I am still a part of the team,” Wade said. “But it is so different. It does make me really sad seeing the season move on and me not be able to play.”
Wade’s love for her team and the sport helps her get through sad thoughts of not being able to play. She said the girls on the team mean everything to her because of the way they have grown together on and off the court in the last year.
“I think it is great for us that she is still such a large part of the team because we can play for her because we love her,” Red Mountain libero Makalie Palma said. “She inspires us everyday.”
Even without being able to suit up, Wade remains a contributing factor to the team’s success.
“Showing that she can fight means that we can fight, too,” Simmons said, “which is everything.”
Wade is no longer enrolled at Red Mountain. She takes online classes because of her treatment schedule. However, she hopes to be back in school and in volleyball as soon as she can.
Wade had goals of one day playing in college, but now her only goal is to just get back on the court even if it is just for fun.
“No one will ever understand how much I miss it,” Wade said.
Wade was named an honorary member of the Benedictine University Redhawk women’s volleyball team on Sept. 29 as part of the program’s Hero Night.
She hopes to attend college and become a veterinarian when she beats cancer. She has undergone 12 round of chemotherapy, which she says have all gone well as she is experiencing minimal side effect.
Wade created a Facebook page called “Zandra's Journey,” which has over 600 members and countless comments from those she has inspired. She also posted a video on YouTube video called “a day in my life: chemotherapy,” documenting what a full day of treatment looks like.
Despite all she has experienced, Wade continues to have a positive outlook on life.
“The most important thing I’ve learned from this journey is to stop taking things for granted and realize the beauty in everything,” Wade said.
Kaylee Connors is a sports journalism student at Arizona State's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism covering Red Mountain High School athletics.