The Game of Her Life

An NCAA Division I basketball player with astounding three-point accuracy…

A nursing student with a 3.75 GPA...

A two-time cancer survivor…

To Hannah Linz, not all accomplishments are equal. “Beating cancer twice -- that’s probably my biggest,” says the 22-year-old North Dakota State University senior.

“And being able to keep up with basketball and school at the same time -- that’s right up there, too. Even when you’re dealt a tough hand, you have to keep moving forward.”

Game plan

Hannah’s first cancer diagnosis came in April 2010. The standout from Watkins, Minn., just completed her first year with the NDSU Bison and struggled in post-season workouts. Symptoms included increasing exhaustion, unintentional weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

“We were just doing a few shooting drills and I got so short of breath,” she recalls. “My coaches got pretty concerned and took me in.”

An exam and tests at Sanford Emergency Center in Fargo showed a large mass in her chest. The abnormality prompted a consultation that same evening with Dr. Shelby Terstriep, Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center oncologist. An immediate biopsy confirmed Dr. Terstriep’s suspicion: Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It was pretty shocking to find out I had a tumor the size of a volleyball,” says Hannah. “I remember looking at Dr. Terstriep and asking ‘Okay, so what do we need to do to get rid of it? What’s the plan?’ Dr. Terstriep was awesome. She explained things, she was thorough and she really cared about me.”

Dr.Terstriep formed an impression of Hannah, too: “What struck me was here was this young woman who, because of this large mass, had just 10 percent of her lung function left. Yet she was practicing basketball. That’s very telling of her never-give-up attitude -- which is probably what led her to being a Division I athlete.”

A force to reckon with

Treatment was intense, including six months of outpatient chemotherapy and three weeks of radiation therapy. Hannah experienced hair loss, fatigue and nausea.

“The hair loss I could handle, but the nausea was the worst,” she says. “I kept telling myself it’s going to get better. It’s like in basketball: You do the hard stuff and that’s how you get to the point of being your best.”

Hannah experienced a positive side-effect, too: the inspiration to become a nurse.

“In my outpatient chemo treatments, I realized a good nurse can make such a difference in making the process easier for the patient,” says Hannah. “I wanted to be that person.”

Treatment put Hannah’s cancer in remission. She worked hard to regain strength and was able to return to the basketball court her sophomore year. In total, Hannah played 100 games in her Bison career, impressing fans with her three-pointers and her fighting spirit.

Then came devastating news. At the end of 2012, Hannah learned the cancer was back.

“My last game was Dec. 30. I was only 36 three-pointers away from being the number one three-point shooter in school history,” says Hannah. “That was a bummer because I knew I could’ve broken that. Second’s pretty good, I guess.”

Tougher the second time

With her characteristic strength and determination, Hannah geared up for her 2013 cancer battle.

“That was tough because I’d already experienced it once and here I was doing it again,” she says. “In the rough moments, I again kept telling myself it’s going to get better. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Treatment the second time was even more intense, including chemotherapy at Roger Maris followed by a stem cell transplant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Hannah kept her focus on getting through school.

“For sure it helps to have other stuff going on in your life. And you definitely need support. Mine has been awesome,” says Hannah. “My family, friends, fiancé, everyone in my NDSU family and the entire community -- I can’t thank them enough.”

Looking ahead

Today Hannah is cancer-free and looking forward to her final year at NDSU. She recently completed her clinicals at Sanford South University in Fargo, but hasn’t yet decided on a specific area of nursing.

Dr. Terstriep says no matter what area she chooses, she’s sure to be a standout: “She’ll be incredible. With all Hannah has been through, she will have empathy beyond belief.”

Hannah was also named this year’s 61 for 61” honorary chair. A 20-year tradition, Sanford Foundation’s “61 for 61“raises funds to support cancer care, research and survivorship at Roger Maris Cancer Center. Donations come from thousands throughout the region.

For others going through a similar experience, Hannah has this advice:
“To people going through cancer, I just want to say hang in there, take it a day at a time and keep moving forward,” she says. “You’ve got things to do in you life and you need to keep doing them.”

Posted Date: September 2013

The Game of Her Life

Diagnosed with cancer at age 19, basketball standout Hannah Linz refused to let it block her. See how strength, determination and support make a difference on the court -- and off.