This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in April 2003.

Local coach has plenty of reasons to smile

By Ed Odeven

If you’ve been to a high school volleyball match in town over the past few years, you’ve seen Aubrie Vargas’ smiling face.

An assistant coach for the Sinagua Mustangs, Aubrie is someone who always sees things in a positive light, always envisions that the glass is half full.

“She’s cheerful. She’s an extremely positive person. I know the girls really respect and love her,” said Sinagua coach Angela Vargas, Aubrie’s aunt.

That’s why last season was such a tough one for the Mustangs. Aubrie, 23, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma on Oct. 17, 2002, and began undergoing treatment the following day.

“It was devastating because it was somebody so young and vibrant,” Angela said, speaking for the entire team. “It was just a reality check for them, It was tough.

“The girls were all very upset, and I just told them, ‘I will always be honest with you and keep you informed about what’s going on because I think the program is really like a family, so this is a member of our family. I would give them daily updates of what was going on. … The team was very supportive of her and very willing to do whatever needed to be done. All of them were like, ‘Coach, what can we do?’ Of course, they were scared, too. They were nervous.”

So was Aubrie, who underwent chemotherapy at Flagstaff Medical Center.

“My whole life just got completely upside down and within that week I started chemo,” she said. “My first treatment was really rough just because my body really wasn’t prepared for all the medication they put into you.

“I couldn’t eat anything for a week. For three days, for sure, I had to chew on ice chips and just kind of let them run down the back of my throat because I couldn’t swallow.”

Over the course of four months, Aubrie had five chemo sessions, with three weeks in between them. And after each treatment, she felt horrible.

“Every time I had a treatment I was sick for about three days. It’s kind of like having the flu but 10 times worse.”

Aubrie had a car accident last May and began having back pains. She started going to a chiropractor. But the pain kept getting worse and worse.

“I’d been working out with the girls and playing with them all the time,” Aubrie said. “My back started to hurt (more), so I started gradually doing less and less with them. It came to the point where I couldn’t walk. I had lost feeling in my leg, and my stomach was numb. … During games, I couldn’t stand up during timeouts.”

Finally, she had an MRI in October. That’s when she found out about the 3 x 3 inch tumor. During this whole ordeal, Aubrie stayed busy coaching for Sinagua, the High Altitude Volleyball Club and St. Mary’s Catholic School, but she never lost her sense of humor.

“They say, ‘If you’re going to have a cancer, this is a good one to have, if there is such a thing.’ It’s very treatable — the radiation is very sensitive to those things,” Aubrie said.

There’s a happy ending to this story. On April 14, Aubrie was informed that the cancer is in remission. It was a blissful day for her family. (“We all just met at Chili’s (Grill and Bar),” she said. “We celebrated. We had a margarita to celebrate, so that was nice.”)

Aubrie, who attended Miami High School, will graduate from NAU on May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in speech communication. Her grandfather, Dickie Vargas was an NAU quarterback in the late 1950s and her parents, Kenny and Evelyn Vargas, also attended the school.

Nowadays, Aubrie is working her way back into shape — “to run across the gym is a big step for me,” she said. The former NAU volleyball player wants to play in a July tourney in Miami.

There will be a benefit dinner/dance for Aubrie on Saturday at the National Guard Armory, 220 N. Thorpe Rd. The dinner is scheduled to last from 5 to 7 p.m. followed by a dance until 11 p.m., and there will be raffles and giveaways. Tickets are $10. For more information, call Steve or Angela Vargas at 779-5455.

“We wanted to do something for her because of everything she’s given,” Angela said. “She’s touched a lot of people’s lives here with her love and her positive energy.”