INSIDE Chico State
0 August 30, 2001
Volume 32 Number 1
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico




From the President's Desk

From the Chair Persons

Calendar of Events






Full Court Press: How Coach Lazzarini beat her ultimate rival

President Esteban and Felicia Contreras congratulate Dolly Moore-Solomon.
Mary Ann Lazzarini, head coach for women’s basketball

(Photo by Lisa Kirk)

Mary Ann Lazzarini, women’s basketball head coach, has been connected with CSU, Chico athletics for more than 28 years, first as a record-setting basketball player, then as a field hockey coach, an associate basketball coach, and, finally, as head basketball coach. In the last 10 years, Lazzarini’s teams have finished no lower than fourth place in conference play. In 1992–93, the Wildcats won the Northern California Athletic Conference title, and Lazzarini was selected NCAC Coach of the year.

Lazzarini’s coaching philosophy is that a player’s state of mind is as important as her athletic prowess. “If I can convince a player that there’s nothing she cannot do, that her mind is the most powerful asset she has—more so than a jump shot or a rebound—that is what will help her for the rest of her life.”

One year ago, Lazzarini was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She had felt sluggish for about a year, but ignored it. Last August, however, she experienced excruciating back pain and noticed that the color in her eyes looked odd. A blood test revealed that her liver was not functioning. A subsequent CAT scan showed a mass in her pancreas.

“I’m not one for thinking there’s no hope. I thought, ‘let’s get on with this,’” Lazzarini recalls. “I approached it very competitively, because that’s my nature.”

The only daughter of two athletic parents, Lazzarini grew up in Martinez with three older brothers. She went on to become a stellar multi-sport athlete. As a student at CSU, Chico, she was an outstanding player on the championship Wildcat basketball team (1972–74) and was inducted into the Chico State Hall of Fame in 1993.Lazzarini coached the Wildcat field hockey team for 11 years, until 1990. She took over as head coach of the women’s basketball team in 1989.

She compared her reaction to her cancer diagnosis to the way she feels during the final seconds of a close game with a tough opponent: determined to win, or as they say on the court, “Bring it on!” Lazzarini’s doctor recommended she seek treatment at UC Davis Medical Center because of the expertise in pancreatic cancer surgery to be found there. “He did say the word ‘cancer’ to me. But it still didn’t register how sick I was,” she says.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer; the survival rate is 20 to 40 percent, depending on the type of tumor. Yet, Lazzarini claims she never thought of dying. “It never crossed my mind,” she says. After eight hours of surgery, the doctors were certain they had removed all of the cancer, but they highly recommended chemotherapy and radiation.

From October 2000 until May 2001, Lazzarini lived with a line inserted in her arm and threaded through her body to her heart. The line carried chemotherapy from a fanny pack-like bag she wore 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “You can hear the chemo shooting into you—it goes ‘zip zip zip’,” she says.

Lazzarini drove to UC Davis daily for radiation treatments. The radiation was painless and only took about 40 seconds, she says. It was the physical effects afterward that she dreaded. “You don’t feel like eating and you’re tired,” she recalls. She forced herself to eat because she did not want to be hospitalized for dropping to a dangerously low weight. She confesses that the radiation and chemotherapy, and the consequent insomnia depressed her at times. “I had to fight. I was taking pills for the nausea, but I still had some nausea. No matter how strong you are, cancer tests you. One day I woke up and there was golf on TV, and I said, ‘Damn, I want to do that again!’ I got angry and it kind of got me out of how I was feeling.”

“With the prayers and support of tons of people, I made it through,” Lazzarini says. “I really learned who my friends are. They were just—boom—there! And my former players, from probably 20 years back.”

Lazzarini says she feels fine, and has gained back the 25 pounds she lost. She says her doctors are amazed how quickly she recovered and how she finished treatment in about half the time it usually takes.

Many cancer survivors say they have a new perspective on life, but Lazzarini says she doesn’t. “I generally live my life for today and plan for tomorrow. I’ve done that for about the last 12 years,” she says, after a family tragedy confirmed to her that “tomorrow is promised to nobody.” She admits she now appreciates every breath.

Lazzarini is convinced it was her attitude and faith that saved her. Alone during radiation, she repeated, aloud, “I’m not going to get sick. I’m not going to get sick.” She said, “You have to believe you are going to get through it. I lived it, and I’ll tell you ... your frame of mind is the key to surviving.”

As living, breathing proof of her philosophy, Lazzarini is eager to share the potential of self-belief with her players this year. She's looking forward to coaching again. "We're going to have a fun year, because that's who I am. We're going to accomplish a lot this year"

Lisa Kirk
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