It’s Feb. 20, and Cassie Troy, a soft-spoken 11-year-old, is watching the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey gold medal game from Sochi. Perhaps one day the Bailey resident, formerly of Evergreen, will be the goaltender for the U.S. women’s team or, maybe, for the Colorado Avalanche.
“It would be cool,” Cassie said shyly.
The Avalanche? If she were a boy, people wouldn’t blink an eye. But when a girl says that, it brings strange looks, said Michelle Troy, Cassie’s mother. Still, considering what Cassie has overcome thus far in her relatively young life, no one should second-guess her.
Cassie, a sixth-grader at Colorado Connections Academy, an online public school, has played hockey since she was 6, following in the footsteps of her older sister, 12-year-old Ali.
Cassie was playing for an under-10 Colorado Select team two years ago when she was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Life as she knew it had come to a sudden halt.
“She was having a lot of headaches, and they were getting progressively worse,” Michelle said.
Cassie was getting sicker, and she couldn’t function, her mother said. Doctors initially diagnosed migraines, but when the prescribed medication didn’t resolve the problem, an MRI was scheduled. That’s when doctors found the tumor. She had surgery the next day.
That was in March 2012. Cassie, then a student at Marshdale Elementary, was just 9 years old. For her parents, Michelle and Derek, it was a nightmare.
“Obviously, it was like the worst thing a parent could go through. We had no idea what was going to happen,” Michelle said. “She was in surgery for over eight hours that day. All that we knew is that she had this thing in her head that they were trying to get out.”
A cyst the size of Cassie’s fist sat on the tumor. Doctors had no answers for how the tumor developed or why it was there, Michelle said.
“The best explanation we got was that it was a growth spurt, and that some of the cells mutated, creating the cyst and/or the tumor. We don’t know which one was first. She could’ve had it for years,” Michelle said.
Unfortunately, surgery was just the beginning. Cassie, who also has a younger brother, 7-year-old Cameron, developed hydrocephalus after the operation. She couldn’t walk or talk, and she could barely swallow, Michelle said. A shunt was placed to drain excess fluid from her brain. To communicate, Cassie had to point at pictures or use a message board, and this was only after she regained her motor skills through physical therapy. It took her about a week before she could speak again.
Cassie underwent physical therapy at Children’s Hospital for six months. Yet, amazingly, come September she was back on the ice and skating again.
Phil McCarthy, Cassie’s coach for the past four years, including this year with the U-12 Colorado Select White team, understands the hurdles Cassie has faced. He was just 23 years old in 1990 — a year removed from college — when he suffered a brain aneurysm. Fate brought the two together, and McCarthy was determined to help Cassie through the ordeal.
“I think this is my cause. This kid walked through what I’ve walked through,” McCarthy said. “I was like, ‘I can’t wait to be around that kid.’
“What I take from her story is that athletics have been so important to her that she’s used that as the focal point to getting back what she thought was taken from her,” McCarthy added.
There was the possibility of returning to the ice, and Cassie focused on that often — maybe too often, McCarthy said. When people experience a loss, they tend to accept the new normal and move on. Not Cassie — she was determined to return to the goal crease.
McCarthy said that at first she was a little hesitant, maybe even frightened. But Cassie stuck with it.
“That again is awesome. Her heart said that ‘I want to keep doing this,’ ” McCarthy said.
Cassie’s parents probably asked neurosurgeons “thousands of times,” Michelle said, if it was OK for her to get back on the ice after all she’d been through. Every time they said yes.
Sports teaches resilience, McCarthy said. Cassie didn’t want to lose hockey, so she used it to bring herself back, not just on the ice but back to a normal life.
“If you didn’t know any better, you’d think she’s a normal 11-year-old kid,” Michelle said.
“Eleven and a half,” Cassie pipes in.
But Cassie Troy is not your normal kid. If she has her way, she’ll be the goaltender for the U.S. women’s hockey team, if not the Colorado Avalanche, sometime soon.
Contact Michael Hicks at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.