Women's College Basketball

Brain tumor ends basketball career for C-SC's Thompson, but she continues to inspire teammates

Culver-Stockton College's Andrekia Thompson poses for a photo in the Charles Field House in Canton, Mo., on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Thompson recently learned that she has a brain tumor and can no longer play basketball. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 26, 2018 8:35 am Updated: Feb. 26, 2018 11:59 pm

CANTON, Mo. -- When the lights start to hurt, Andrekia Thompson closes her eyes and shields them with her hand.

It's only a short remedy.

It gets that way when Thompson suffers a migraine except "30 times worse." Any kind of light, and the smallest sounds make her head feel like its pounding. Simply looking at a computer screen for too long triggers them.

"Sometimes my vision will double or get speckles," Thompson said. "I'll get tingling in my fingertips or in my feet. It's not a good feeling, especially when you can't control it."

Thompson started experiencing the intense migraines when she returned to campus in the fall for her senior year and last year of basketball at Culver-Stockton College. As they got worse, she made trips to the emergency room for help.

Medications only worked temporarily. When basketball season started in early October, the senior guard continued to play through the pain. However, Thompson's demeanor wasn't what she usually brought on the court.

"She just didn't have the same energy," C-SC senior guard Hannah Thompson said. "She loves this game."

That made Thompson want to find out what was causing the headaches.

It ended up changing her life. 

The diagnosis

A little more than a month into C-SC's schedule, Thompson went in for a CAT scan at Blessing Hospital in Quincy, Ill., just after Thanksgiving.

A malignant tumor the size of a nickel was found on the front part of her brain above her left eye. Thompson finally had an answer but not one she hoped to get.

"It's a tumor that's surrounding my nerves," she said. "The nerves in my brain are basically in a clump. It's not really a blood clot, but it's causing me to have seizures and muscle spasms."

Thompson continued to practice and play. Treatments weren't having any affect, and the tumor grew.

In early January, doctors told Thompson she couldn't play basketball anymore because the tumor became a danger to her entire nervous system. She finished her season having played in 17 games, averaging eight minutes per game.

"The nervous system controls your entire body," C-SC women's basketball coach Janette Burgin said. "So they wanted to take her out of the physical activity and try to get her some treatment. That's kind of where we're at right now."

Thompson's treatment consists of two methods. The first is radiation. She wears a helmet on her head with a hole where the tumor is located, which allows the radiation to be focused on the specific spot. After that, she'll undergo chemotherapy.

The hope is the treatment will shrink the tumor to where doctors can surgically remove it.

"It could be within in the next month," Thompson said. "I'm excited to do it. It's one more step closer to being done, but the whole thing is kind of scary."

Thompson also must watch her diet. Burgers, fried chicken and pizza have been eliminated, but she's more upset about not having sweets.

"They made me cut candy," Thompson said. "I can't have Skittles anymore. I had a bag of Skittles at practice every day.

"Everything I grew up on, basically. It's a transformation."

Not leaving her family

Thompson gave the Wildcats a nice surprise before a home game against Missouri Valley Feb. 7. She walked into the gym at Charles Field House as the team was heading back to the locker room for a final pregame talk. They saw Thompson, and nearly every player hugged her on their way to the locker room.

Thompson said she rescheduled a chemotherapy session so she could attend the game, which C-SC won 63-47.

"I love them," she said with a smile. "It's not even the game. I'm from Florida, and I'm states away. This is my family, and I take that very seriously. I want to see my teammates have fun, and I want to do that with them."

The surprise visit was appreciated by her teammates.

"It's important to have her around," Hannah Thompson said. "It's just different when she's not there. She hasn't been able to go on some road trips, and honestly, I think we lost some games because of that.

"It's just better when she's around. She pushes and motivates us because she can't play any more."

Her teammates and coaches are the only family Thompson has right now.

Thompson's father died while she was attending Southeastern Community College in Keokuk, Iowa. A year later, her mother died during Thompson's first year at C-SC.

Thompson said both of her parents were caught up in drugs, which lead to their deaths.

"Knowing they were doing that made me want to be better," Thompson said. "I love my mom, I love my dad, but I didn't want to be them. People told me I would be like them, and I wanted to prove them wrong." 

The battle

Burgin noticed a change in Thompson's mood after the diagnosis. She didn't see the energetic personality that influenced her teammates.

"There were some days you could tell she wasn't the same girl," Burgin said. "She's a spark plug. When we'd be in games and I needed a spark, I could turn to her and say, 'Go,' and we'd get that."

Burgin wanted to see that again, especially since a positive attitude would help in her battle.

"I just had to remind her that's not who she is," Burgin said. "I stay really positive for her. She wants everyone to love life, and the fact she has go to through this makes you step back and realize there's more to life than basketball. There's relationships, love, friends and family."

Thompson has received support from her teammates and coaches. She gets texts daily asking how she's doing or if she needs help with anything.

Thompson has also met with brain tumor survivors and patients battling their own brain tumors. Some are much older than she is, and they tell her she'll be OK.

She finds those words inspiring.

"That just gives me hope," Thompson said. "In the beginning, I was really scared. I was really negative about it."

Thompson has inspired her team, too.

"She's one of the toughest kids I've ever met in my life," Burgin said. "I've told her, 'Who else on this team could handle this?' She's a team player, but I think she'd rather have it than have someone else have it.

"If I could have it, and it meant she didn't have it, I'd do that in a heartbeat."

That support and determination are helping her win the battle.

"(The tumor) is not life-threatening right now," Thompson said. "It can be, but I'm absolutely not going to let it be."

When she goes into remission, she'll enjoy a bag of Skittles again.

"That's the goal," Thompson said with a grin.