USTA Hawaii player Libby Tomar (fifth from right) hangs tough both on the tennis court and in her fight with cancer.
© Jennifer Pottheiser
By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Two years have passed since Libby Tomar heard the news that she had multiple myeloma. At the time, the now-61-year-old Tomar – athletic and always on the courts in Kailua, Hawaii – saw no signs and felt no symptoms. The atypical diagnosis of the incurable cancer came after a routine blood test. With therapy and a stem cell transplant, which Tomar underwent soon after her diagnosis at Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle, the average life expectancy is just short of five years.
The three-month treatment and six-month convalescence didn’t lessen the cancer, but thanks to an alternative medication, Revlimid, Tomar is in partial remission. Tall, tan and gregarious, the USTA Hawaii Super Senior who played this past weekend in Surprise, Ariz., still doesn’t betray any hint of terminal illness.
"I’m just so thrilled to be here, a blessing really to be out here with the team again," said Tomar. "You just want to be normal."
Multiple Myeloma is a blood plasma cancer that develops in roughly six out of every 100,000 in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The disease takes effect as collections of abnormal plasma cells accumulate in the bone marrow, interfering with the production of normal blood cells. Bone pain (and later, lesions), kidney failure, anemia and susceptibility to pneumonia become common in patients.
"Naturally, the first thing I thought to do was research the web after being diagnosed," said Tomar. "You know, ‘What is this disease, never heard of it, let’s find out.’ It sounds like melanoma, but it’s not. Then you see the life expectancy and then it hit me: ‘Oh my gosh, my dogs are going to outlive me!’
"But I’ve been told that if you’re going to have a cancer, this is probably a good one to have with all the new medications available and soon coming."
As Tomar became acquainted with her new life’s goal – living, and living with purpose – she knows her way around USTA League Nationals. Eight years ago, Tomar was part of a 3.5 Senior women’s team that took second place overall. Many of the same teammates remain for this year’s Super Seniors run, playing, laughing and surviving the years right alongside Tomar.
"My teammates were wonderful," said Tomar of her time in Seattle, fighting for her life on the mainland while her Hawaii mates rallied to lift her spirits. "They’d mail me lots of letters and presents. When I came back, they held a couple of luncheons."
The Hawaiians ran into tough competition and did not qualify for the semifinals, but Tomar will say "aloha" – hello and goodbye – to Arizona and move onto the next tennis challenge. As long as she can – and she’s held a racquet since the age of 10 – she will play.
"It’s a great lifetime sport," said Tomar. "In terms of life, if anything you find out more about yourself that you never knew."
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