Black and Gold . . . and Lime Green

Vanderbilt fans have been urged for years to "Show Your Gold", but fans are encouraged to "Show Your Lime Green" on Senior Night when the Dores host the #3-ranked Auburn Tigers in the final home game of the season at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

The call for green is part of "Lyme Disease Awareness" night to show support for sophomore Rebecca Silinski and her family, who have struggled with the disease for the past year and a half, as well as to increase knowledge and awareness of the disease.

Unlike the recent "Pink Out", which was part of the WBCA's national "Pink Zone Week" to support breast cancer research and awareness, Vanderbilt's Lyme Disease Awareness Night is strictly a grassroots effort that originated with the student-athletes on the women's basketball team.

The Silinskis' nightmare with Lyme Disease first surfaced in October 2007 when Kaitlyn Silinski, Rebecca's 13-year-old sister, called home from school saying she didn't feel well. At first, they thought she had the flu.

But they were mistaken. "What we thought was the flu turned into so much more," said Rebecca last week. "She was tested for leukemia, for brain cancer, for chronic fatigue syndrome, for mono, any and everything you could think of, and that's scary stuff, to be 13 years old and being told that you might have brain cancer or something like that."

Finally, Kaitlyn was tested for Lyme Disease and tested positive for both the acute and chronic forms of the disease, and she was rushed to Kansas City to begin the long regiment of IV antibiotic treatment. According to Rebecca, she has extreme sensitivity to light, to touch and to sound, so even before she lost her voice in December, she can't have people talking too much.

To make a bad situation even worse, when tests were done on the other members of the family, Rebecca's father and mother and Rebecca herself all tested positive. Her father is now also receiving IV antibiotic treatment in Kansas City, and her mother is being treated with oral antibiotics.

For Rebecca, one of the big problems now is the presence of co-infections of Lyme Disease. One of the co-infections can cause problems with blood coagulation, so it puts the victim at risk for heart attack or stroke. That's a risk nobody wanted her to take, so her season came to a premature end, and she now sits on the bench in street clothes. She is being treated now with oral antibiotics and will start the second, heavier dosage later this week.

All through the ordeal Rebecca and her family have had the support of her teammates and coaches. "I feel so blessed to have a team and the coaches that I have," she said. "They've been so supportive since last year when Kaitlyn first got sick and with the impact that it's had on all of us, and then with me not being able to play."

The idea to take that support to the next level originated with the team's academic counselor Christy Hogan. Senior Tina Wirth needed to do a project for a class to complete the requirements for her degree in Human and Organizational Development, and Hogan suggested that she put together a Lyme Disease Awareness promotion at one of the team's games.

"So they started talking with me about it to see if I would be okay with doing it, and I said 'Absolutely!' I love to get the awareness out about it," Rebecca said. "It's really important, especially with Lyme Disease, to get people aware of it and then if they have symptoms of it, to be able to be treated sooner and prevent things like what's happened with our family."

Head Coach Melanie Balcomb also had to approve the project. "I just wanted to make sure that Rebecca was okay with it.," said Balcomb. "She's a young lady that is dealing with a lot of personal family issues, and I wanted to ask her just to protect her and let her know if she's going to do this publicly, then everybody's going to know and she's going to have to answer questions and talk about it a lot.

"If that would be too upsetting to her, then we would protect her and not do this. And she said no, this was something that she wanted to do publicly to help if she could."

Balcomb isn't concerned that the promotion will be a distraction for a Senior Night game which already evokes bittersweet emotions as the seniors on the team play their last game in Memorial Gym.

" We've been dealing with this as a team, trying to help Rebecca and her family deal with it for a long time now," said Balcomb. "I think it's something kids will feel good about trying to help and do something for her."

As excited as the team feels about supporting their teammate, the significance of the game itself isn't lost on them. Coming into the game, Vanderbilt is second in the SEC with a 9-2 record, while Auburn is 10-1. Both teams have three games remaining, including the game on Thursday night. A win on Thursday night would keep the hopes of an SEC regular season championship alive for Vanderbilt.

"It's cool because, as coach said after one of the games, we control our destiny," said senior guard Jen Risper. "We had some bad losses, but now we have things where we want it, and we still have a chance to win the SEC, and it starts with tomorrow night," she said.

Game time is 8 p.m. to accommodate television, and seniors Wirth, Risper, and Amy Malo, will be honored in Senior Night festivities after the game.




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