BOISE, Idaho — Kayly Pau is a junior at Boise State, and she's on the women's volleyball team. Volleyball is her passion, and she is a true competitor.
"This will be my third year here at Boise State," said Kayly Pau. "I'm an outside hitter, my goal is to rack up a bunch of kills, find their week spots and send them home."
In the summer of 2020, she was sick and she wasn't getting better. She went to the hospital because she couldn't eat, or sleep. She knew something was wrong.
"It was hard, it was really hard for me," Pau said. "They told me we think you have leukemia."
Kayly had always been healthy, she says it was rare for her to even get a cold, so this was devastating news.
"For me, it was a shock. I didn't know what to do. I called my mom, I called my coaches," said Pau.
What she was most concerned about was her spot on the volleyball team. She didn't want to lose it. She had a serious discussion with her coaches.
"I was not going to give up volleyball, and I was not going to give up on my health," Pau said. "I told them that I wanted to play and they said okay, as long as doctors okay it, they would let me play with modifications, and I just kept going."
Boise State Women's Volleyball Coach Shawn Garus had never had an athlete diagnosed with cancer. This was a first. He wanted to make sure he was doing everything he could to be there for her.
"I went to our athletic training staff and said what does this mean? Does this mean she is done? Is this something she can recover from?," said Garus.
Garus wanted to support Kayly every step of the way. He knew she wanted to keep playing. With her doctors' permission, he wanted to help her do just that.
"I told her to do what you need to do, listen to your body, we will take it day by day," Garus said. "We'll have a plan and we'll help you the best we can."
Pau was strategic about her chemotherapy. She worked with her doctors to schedule it around her practice days.
"I usually planned my treatments for the weekend," said Pau. "So, it would correlate with my off days for volleyball. Then, I could still come in and do what I could on the court."
That plan worked for a few months, but things took a turn in October of 2020. She was getting more and more exhausted by her treatments, and it was time to slow down.
"That's when I had to pull the reigns and focus strictly on health," said Pau. "I would say my coaches got me through that, honestly, because they checked in on me every day. It was so nice to have that support system knowing I wasn't going through this alone. They would come to me if I needed something, and they always had my back."
Kayly pushed through, and by February of 2021, she was feeling strong and she was back in the gym. She's been there ever since. She is now in remission.
"I feel great! I wake up in the morning, I feel good, and I get to come to practice every single day," said Pau. "Then I get to go home after, and I get to get better each day. I remember the days I was in bed and laying in bed all day. Now, I am able to dive around the court I am able to do basically everything that I was able to do before."
Pau is sharing her story two years later to inspire others. This month is Leukemia Awareness Month, and she was finally ready to go public. Boise State shared her story with the media, and she was more than happy to talk about it.
"So I think at this point, I'm healthy, I'm recovering, and I get to play now. I want people to see that even if you are faced with a challenge like that, you can do it, and you can still go back to what you love," said Pau.
On Thursday night, September 22, the women's volleyball game against New Mexico was dedicated to leukemia awareness. The color orange was everywhere.
"September is Leukemia Awareness Month, so the ribbon is orange, and we are doing our orange match," said Pau. "It's not just a color on a ribbon, it means more to a lot of people. A lot of people are affected by it, a lot of families are affected by it. It's really hard."
Her coaches and teammates were thrilled wear orange uniforms to raise awareness, and to honor Kayly's cancer journey. The team beat New Mexico in a marathon five set match. This win was extra meaningful to Kayly and the Boise State community.
"We're excited to see Kayly celebrated for what she has done," said Coach Shawn Garus. "She has inspired all of us."
Kayly has a message for anyone who is struggling with illness, or any other situation in their lives.
"Just keep going. Keep going, because you can get through it," said Kayly. "I want people to know that no matter what, no matter what you are faced with, you can still do anything your can set your mind to."
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