'Back to being who I am': Sheyenne volleyball player bounces back to play after cancer

Mya Lambert, who helped lead West Fargo Sheyenne to its first state volleyball tournament, showing little ill effects of 2016 cancer scare
West Fargo Sheyenne's Mya Lambert, who has overcome a scare with cancer, sends love to her bench during a volleyball match earlier this season. David Samson / The Forum

West Fargo

Nearly two years removed from the worst time of her life, Mya Lambert can still remember the exact moment everything hit her.

It’s not that Lambert, who at 16 years of age was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just before Thanksgiving in 2016, was ignorant to the severity of her situation. After more than a month of constant doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy sessions, Lambert says she at least had the illusion of normalcy to cling onto, as there was little showing on the outside to indicate anything was wrong.

But in short order, that illusion faded entirely, and reality was, quite literally, staring her back in the face.

Knowing she had to cut off her hair, Lambert asked Alexis Hoffner, her best friend since she and her family moved to West Fargo from Minot two years earlier, for assistance.

Going in, Hoffner says the mood wasn’t entirely somber, as the friends even discussed the possibility of sampling different looks for Lambert to try once her hair grew back.

But by night’s end, all good feelings were gone. As a bald reflection stared back at her from the mirror, Lambert knew she’d be looked at differently the next time she returned to the halls of West Fargo Sheyenne High School.

“Until I actually cut my hair...nobody could really notice because everything looked normal from the outside,” she said. “I just kept crying. I think I fell asleep crying.”

Fortunately, in recent years, Lambert has rarely felt the need to shed more tears.

After roughly four months of procedures, Lambert was given a clean bill of health in February of 2017 and told the chances her cancer would ever return were “really low.”

A three-sport athlete at Sheyenne, Lambert has not faced any physical limitations since getting a clean bill of health, missing only her sophomore basketball season.

In her senior year as a defensive specialist for the Sheyenne volleyball team, Lambert was part of team history, as the Mustangs qualified for the Class A state tournament for the first time, winning two of three matches to earn a fifth-place finish at last week’s tourney in Minot.

Having lived in Minot until she was 14, competing at state was a particularly special moment for Lambert, who got to play in front of several extended family members who still live in the area.

Mustang Volleyball Coach Leah Newton says the tenacity Lambert has shown in her personal life has transfered over to the court and proven to be a strong motivating factor for her teammates.

“The appreciation she has for the little things, I think carries over to the rest of the girls,” Newton said. “Having to see her fight through everything and come out the other side, they appreciate things more.”

Tough she still has to go in for checkups every three months, Lambert talks about them as if they’re simple errands as opposed to invasive medical procedures. When asked when her next checkup is, she doesn’t even seem to know the specifics, passively saying she goes back to the doctor “in like, one or two months.”

And while Hoffner at one point had to fight back tears when discussing the plight of her friend, Lambert shows no such emotions, saying her bout with a disease that has long since left her body has done little to impact her current life.

“It doesn’t really affect me much anymore,” she said. “Just when other people talk about it.”

That resolve hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people around her.

“She’s an amazing person,” Hoffner said. “It’s really sad to see that happen to someone so young and not be able to control anything about it. But it’s also a great thing to see how strong of a person she’s become.”

With college on the horizon, Lambert is trying to decide between North Dakota State, North Dakota and Minot State, where she plans to study “something in the medical field,” though she has no concrete plans as to what that something is.

Though partially influenced by her health scare, Lambert’s interest in medicine was piqued well before then by her father Matt, an anesthesiologist.

Wherever the next phase of life takes her, Lambert says she’s just excited to think her college experience may actually mirror the one she imagined in the days before her diagnosis.

“I’m just glad I’m healthy and feeling alright and can get back to being who I am,” she said.