As an athlete growing up, Steph Hoshor ’20 always had a competitive nature, willing to take on any challenge. This past summer, Steph dealt with her toughest battle yet, something she continues to fight today.
It’s the first Saturday of the summer for Stephanie Hoshor ’20, a sophomore on the women’s golf team at Doane. Finals week is in the rearview mirror and freshman year of college is in the books.
Steph had some headaches during finals week, but what student hadn’t, she figured. Long nights studying, too much caffeine, and a fair amount of junk food will do that to you. Feeling good enough to be out and about, Steph and her parents, James Hoshor ’93 and Jennifer Hoshor, went to a family friend’s high school graduation party in Nehawka, Nebraska, a small town roughly 35 miles south of Omaha and about 10 miles south of their home in Murray.
It didn’t take long for everyone at the party to notice something was a little off with Steph. “I was just out of it that day,” she said. “Normally I’m really social but I wasn’t at the party that night.”
At one point in the evening, Steph sat down and felt an instant pounding feeling in her head. “It was the worst headache of my life,” she said.
Her face turned white, and her parents started walking with her to the car. As soon as Steph got in, she projectile vomited everywhere.
Jeff and Melanie Jamison, host parents at the party, knew immediately this was not a normal illness and told James and Jennifer she needed to be taken to the hospital immediately.
Jeff, a fire department chief, and Melanie, a nurse, started to fear the worst.
James and Jennifer rushed their daughter to the closest hospital, Bellevue Medical Center, 25 miles north of Nehawka. As soon as they arrived, Steph was carried into the waiting room. Moments later, she was on the floor, unconscious.
If there was any doubt how serious the situation was, those doubts had now been erased.
Steph was rushed in for a CAT scan, and doctors told her parents she had a quarter-sized tumor in her brain and she needed to be rushed to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha immediately.
“When you first hear your daughter has a tumor in her brain, everything just hits you like a ton of bricks and your stomach just drops,” James said. “You just feel hopeless. It was scary.”
At UNMC, Steph was taken to ICU, where doctors performed emergency surgery. Steph had so much pressure on her brain from her right ventricle being enlarged from the tumor that doctors needed to drill a hole in her head to make room for a drainage tube to relieve pressure of cerebrospinal fluid.
Before going into surgery to examine the tumor, Dr. William Thorell warned Steph and her family of the worst-case scenarios.
“Death was definitely a part of the discussion,” James said.
“The location of the tumor is in the center of the brain. It’s like if you looked at an avocado and divided it up and looked at the core in the middle, that’s where Steph’s tumor is located.”
“Before the surgery it was really hard to say goodbye to my parents because there was a possibility I wouldn’t remember who they were when I woke up,” Steph recalls.
After a four- to six-hour surgery, doctors determined it would be too dangerous to remove the tumor because it was connected to the brain and had grown roots inside of it. What was originally thought to be a quarter-sized tumor was discovered to be baseball-sized. The tumor would be something Steph would have to live with for the rest of her life. That was the bad news.
The good news: The tumor is not cancerous and would later be diagnosed as a grade 1 tumor, the best possible outcome given the circumstances.
“It was hard to hear that I would have to live with it for the rest of my life, but I have also come to terms with it,” Steph said. “I’ve tried to make it as normal as normal can be.”
Once news had spread about Steph’s condition, the support the Hoshor family received was second-to-none.
“It was a crazy outpouring of love and support from so many people, some that I had never met before,” Jennifer said. “It was overwhelming.”
Steph said it felt like half of their hometown was in the hospital.
“It took awhile for me to understand the magnitude of the situation,” she said. “We literally had to kick people out to bring the next group in. Our receptionist joked that we needed a number system for the visitors.”
James added, “There were so many flowers Steph got that it looked like a floral shop. There were probably 100 people there the day before her major surgery.”
For 10 days, Steph had a tube coming out of her head to drain the cerebrospinal fluid, pending surgery on May 23 to have a shunt permanently inserted in the back of her head. Tubes were inserted inside of her that go through her neck and down through her chest and abdomen, where the CSF fluid drains back into her body and absorbs naturally.
“When I woke up after the shunt surgery it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” Steph said. “I had stitches on my abdomen, collarbone, and on the right side of my head.”
The shunt surgery was the last major medical procedure Steph had to undergo before going home, doing her best to recover from this life-changing diagnosis.
Throughout her time in the hospital, Steph remained positive, engaging, and graceful. Visitors arrived at the hospital crying with worry, but after visiting with Steph they left with smiles on their faces.
One of those visitors was Marty Fye ’83, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Doane. He visited Steph multiple times in Omaha and shaved his head to show support for her.
“Here is this young woman with a very dramatic situation that had courage and faith that was unwavering,” Fye said.
“I think it’s safe to say most of us wouldn’t have faced what she did with the courage she had. We would’ve been feeling sorry for ourselves and that’s not what I witnessed in her. She found an inner strength to deal with this difficult situation.”
“The support we got from Doane —the Greek organizations, the athletic staff, faculty, students—it was unbelievable,” James said. “It makes you proud to be an alum. It truly is a family at Doane and I really don’t think we would’ve gotten that type of support if we were at a larger university. There truly is no place like Doane. The family-type atmosphere and commitment they provide is unmatched.”
Steph’s golf coach at Doane, Jeannine Foster, was another visitor who was worried sick when she heard the news.
“I can hardly talk about it,” Jeannine said. “Knowing her mentality, I knew she would fight it. She was positive the whole time. That was comforting for me because I knew that she could handle this.”
After being in the hospital for 13 days, Steph returned home on May 25. Other than taking some precautionary measures with the shunt, including to avoid metal detectors, Steph was hopeful she would be able to return to a “normal” life, or at least as normal as could be given the circumstances.
After a couple of months of trying to get back into a routine, Steph returned to Doane and the women’s golf team in August, welcomed with an outpouring of support.
“The girls made t-shirts for me, sold bracelets as a fundraiser to help raise money for medical bills for our family. It was pretty touching,” she said.
When told that she would be cleared to play golf, she didn’t think twice about whether she would return to the team. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but with hard work and persistence, she could return to old form, and better yet, start to break her own personal records.
“We have someone with a baseball-sized brain tumor out there, working just as hard as everyone else,” Foster said. “She has the best attitude of probably any golfer I’ve ever had. She never gets down on herself and is always encouraging everyone else. She has been full steam ahead, all the time.”
That mindset and approach has rubbed off on those closest to Steph—and they hope others can be impacted the same way they have.
“She hasn’t let this get her down,” her dad said. “She’s looked at this as one more hurdle in life that she has to overcome and is determined to get over the hurdle and be as successful as possible. I think it’s inspired a lot of other people.”
Said Fye: “What I’ve taken away from Steph’s courage is that no matter what hurdle you have to get over in life, if you take a positive view rather than a negative view on it, no matter what the final outcome is, it’s always better if we look at it with faith and positivity.”
Steph is coming off a successful fall season in which she was the No. 6 golfer on the team. With 13 girls on the team, the top five make varsity and the top eight travel to meets. Steph broke 100 for the first time in her college career last fall and she continues to better her score, aiming to break 90 at a meet this spring.
While her scores on the golf course are only a number, the perseverance and strength she’s showed through the past year will never be able to be measured.
“Every single day I have truly enjoyed even more now,” Steph said. “I want to make time for others, visit people I don’t see often, and enjoy every minute that I have here at Doane.”