Jillion Potter is no stranger to overcoming adversity. In the last six years she has already recovered from a broken neck and, more recently, overcome a rare form of soft tissue cancer.
This weekend, Potter will captain the USA Women’s Sevens Eagles at the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series round in Sao Paulo, her second event since overcoming Stage III Synovial Sarcoma.
To describe the 29-year-old as inspirational is therefore something of an understatement.
“I found the tumour right after the Amsterdam Sevens,” explained Potter, who took up rugby at university and was hooked by the community feel of the sport.
“I woke up one morning with this swelling underneath my jaw and tongue.
“Initially the oncologist though it was benign and slow-growing so it was something we didn’t have to worry about.
“But through the course of the World Cup (in France), the tumour was growing and much faster than they had anticipated.
“I did play throughout the World Cup but the tumour was pressing up my tongue into the roof of my mouth.
“They diagnosed me with Stage III Synovial Sarcoma, which is a rare soft tissue cancer – it is the most misdiagnosed cancer type that there is.”
Potter admits that having to tell her mother the diagnosis was “the first thing that broke me down” and that losing her eyebrows and eyelashes another surprise and low in her treatment.
However, it also shows the character that has helped Potter, from Austin in Texas, recover from not one but two life-threatening events.
“I didn’t know I would lose my eyelashes and it is something silly but it made me feel pretty, so once they fell off I felt like I was this alien and I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw.
Rugby: A wonderful gift
“But I was also able to look in the mirror and smile too, so you kind of just look beyond that because you are still the same person, regardless of how you look in the mirror.”
Walking three miles with her IV pole and infusion, simply because she was insistent on keeping exercising and as a means to escape the hospital, is another example.
Potter was never short of messages of support from her USA team-mates – who were “always by my side even though they were thousands of miles away” - and players from across the world.
“Throughout the whole ordeal I thought about rugby and how I wanted to come back, and the entire rugby community around the world really offered support and encouragement and just belief and that really helped me.
“I am just grateful to be here. Rugby teaches values and those values are what really prepare you in life, the values that you learn on the pitch and off the field that really set you up to overcome challenges.
“Rugby has given me a wonderful gift, and has taught me a lot about mental toughness and discipline, hard work and integrity, and all those things really played a role in … how I, beat cancer.