RICHLAND -- Since her freshman year, Monika Hebky knew what she would do this spring.
The Richland softball player was tabbed to start at shortstop after the graduation of then-junior Maddie Chambers.
"We were working her as the backup shortstop pretty much from Day 1," coach Casey Emery said. "I knew who Monika was from summer ball. Through tryouts and from the first week of practice, we knew she had it."
But during a doctor's visit late last year, after finishing her volleyball season with the Bombers, Hebky received news that altered her plans.
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Hebky learned she had thyroid cancer, a highly curable disease but a frightening diagnosis for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old high school junior.
After undergoing surgery to remove her thyroid, Hebky was back on the softball field early this season. But in mid-March, she had to go to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle to get some lymph nodes taken out.
Hebky has not played since her second surgery, but the wait shouldn't be too much longer.
"I'm hoping in a couple weeks I can start getting back into practices," she said. "I'm really excited."
Though her energy is returning, Hebky is not done with her treatment. In a few weeks, she will take a radioactive pill that will keep her quarantined in her bedroom for 2-3 days.
"I'm gonna get some crosswords," she said.
In the meantime, the honors student is catching up in her classes after missing a week because of her surgery. She also is staying in the loop with her teammates, who have honored her by wearing ribbons and putting tribute posters in the dugout and in the outfield.
"I went to a couple of their games, and they've been really supportive," said Hebky, a CBBN 4A second-team first baseman last season. "They made me these signs, which was really cool, I thought."
Her quiet nature and refusal to put herself before the team has endeared her to the Bombers.
"Of all the kids on the team," Emery said, "she's probably adored as much if not more than the rest of the players."
Through her experience with cancer, Hebky not only has seen how much she means to her team, but her longtime desire to go into medicine also has been reinforced by the doctors treating her.
"They've been really good with me," Hebky said. "And it just shows me that I want to be one of them, to help people."
Hebky and her family, including mother Shannon, father Dave and younger sister Jessika, have gotten through the tough times by thinking of River View student Abi Hamlin, who has fought her own cancer battle since last year. Hebky's mother said they put Hamlin's picture on their refrigerator as a reminder to keep fighting.
"When the doctors said (Monika's) heart and lungs all looked good, I was very happy, but my mind went to Abi's mom because they didn't get that news," Shannon Hebky said. "You always just have to look at the positive."
That includes the possibility that her daughter could be cleared to return to the sport she loves before an April 20 showdown against defending Class 4A state champion Walla Walla.
"I think that's the first game I may be able to play in, which is scary," Monika Hebky said.
But Hebky's mother would argue that if there's one thing she has shown since her cancer diagnosis, it's that she is a fighter.
"I've said to people that it's just the path she was given," Shannon Hebky said, "and now she has to walk it."
* Katie Dorsey: 509-582-1526; email@example.com