Former local athlete in new battle
Fundraiser set for tomorrow
A former Amador Valley High School track star is in a race for her life, this time against brain cancer, but she's got her friends cheering her on.
Monica Van Wegen graduated Amador Valley in 1997. She's now 31 but still holds the school's track and field record in the 200-meter run.
Van Wegen has been battling cancer for nearly four years, according to her father, Gary.
On April 21, just a day after her 31st birthday, doctors discovered a large tumor developing in her brain. Van Wegen immediately went into surgery to have the tumor removed and start aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"In May she went in, they did a very major surgery," Gary Van Wegen said. "The surgeon said she'd need surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and probably clinical trial drugs."
Her father said that, despite everything, "she's in very good spirits."
"She's the same bubbly person, other than not having any hair left, you basically can't see any impairment," he said.
As Gary ran through a list of her accomplishments, it was clear how proud he is of his daughter. He explained that Monica was both a cross country runner and a sprinter, something unusual in sports.
She was the 1996 North Coast Section (NCS) 800-meter champ and the East Bay Athletic League (EBAL) 200-meter record holder from 1996 to 2000, and was a member of the Amador Valley relay team that placed eighth in the country.
"She was quite a delight. I could not have written a better plot of success," said Gary Van Wegen, a track coach himself. "She was all I could ever ask for as an athlete."
Monica went on to Chico State where she studied physical therapy. She attended graduate school at University of Southern California and was scheduled to start her Ph.D. program this fall at University of San Francisco.
Her friends have put together a fundraiser to help out with the high cost of her treatments. Jennifer Dolder has been friends with Monica since their days on the track team.
"When I heard from Monica how sick she was, it really broke my heart. Monica is such a kind, caring, active healthy person. No one deserves to go through this, but especially someone as amazing as Monica," Dolder said. "When I heard that she was having a lot of out-of-pocket medical expenses, I immediately started brainstorming ideas on what we could do to help out."
A friend, Jarrod Dillion, put her in touch with the Oakland A's, who helped them put together a tailgate party to raise funds. That's set for tomorrow, Sept. 25.
Meanwhile another friend, Gretchen Meyer, came up with the idea of holding a drawing to raise additional money.
"She has been working really hard to get local businesses involved in making donations," Dolder said.
She said while raising money is important, it's about more than just the money.
"I want Monica to see how much she is loved, and how much we are all pulling for her recovery. It was important for me to give Monica something to look forward to in spite of all that she is going through," Dolder said. "I wanted to help her family with some of the expenses of Monica's treatments so that they had one less thing to stress about."
Coping with Van Wegen's illness has been difficult for Dolder and their other friends.
"She's so healthy, so athletic and takes good care of herself," Dolder said. "It's just so hard for us to understand why this is happening. When you talk to her, she sounds the same: positive, vibrant."
Dolder said she expects between 85 and 100 people to attend the tailgating event.
Gary Van Wegen said he's been told that friends from as far away as Oregon, where Monica lived for a few years, are headed down for the party, along with a couple of her former coaches.
He said Monica is at home now and is looking forward to the tailgate party.
"Monica is hoping to be there to be able to see all her friends, family and even those who don't know her, but are supporting her fight," Dolder said.
Meanwhile, Gary Van Wegen is hoping the clinical trial drugs -- those not approved by the FDA -- will help Monica.
"Maybe some miracle will happen," he said.