Stronger Than Before: Campanell Komara's Year-Long Battle with Breast Cancer

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, The College of Wooster women's basketball team takes on Oberlin College in their final home game of the season. Prior to tip-off, women's golf coach Lisa Campanell Komara will be honored as a breast cancer survivor. At the game donations will be taken for the Play4Kay organization supporting breast cancer research. One can also donate here.

Below is a deeper dive into Campanell Komara's journey with breast cancer from this past year.

Rich Danch and Lisa had more in common last year than any other.
Campanell Komara

Entering her ninth season as The College of Wooster head women's golf coach, and her 35th year coaching overall, Lisa Campanell Komara has seen some battles.

From the beginning, at just 24 years of age, she was hired to take over the women's basketball program at Bethany College (W. Va.). That success later earned her stints in coaching volleyball, men's and women's tennis, basketball and golf. 

She spent four years wearing three different hats at Bethany as the Coordinator of Women's Athletics, head volleyball coach and head women's basketball coach. At one point during that span she was even driving 70 miles one way to go to graduate school at West Virginia University.

She then came over to Wooster and spent 13 years as the women's basketball coach and an additional two as the head women's tennis coach before transitioning into the College's first women's golf coach in 2010-11.

But none of that may have been as challenging as what 2018 had in store for Campanell Komara.

Just 12 days into the year, doctors told Campanell Komara she had stage 3 breast cancer.

Luckily with further evaluation doctors found the cancer had not yet spread to other parts of the body, and chemotherapy was started right away.

"You lose your hair, there is nausea, lack of appetite, general weakness - it just keeps rolling," Campanell Komara said. "The chemo is attacking your cancer cells, but it's also attacking your healthy cells, so, you're just really knocked down."

The chemotherapy lasted until early June when she took a month off for surgery. Then in mid-August she had six consecutive weeks radiation five days a week.

After going through the nine-month gamut, Campanell Komara was told she was cancer free. Now comes the recovery process and to go along with it the fear that it can return.

"Last year I dealt with the physical properties of it," Campanell Komara said. "Now I'm in the mental aspect of it making sure you tell yourself it's not going to come back and doing the appropriate stuff so it doesn't come back."

Through it all, she coached the women's golf team and continued to teach her sports administration class at the College. Her hectic schedule gave her relief, keeping her mind busy and focused on other anything other than the cancer. 

The chemotherapy was the toughest stage for Campanell Komara, and that stage happened to align right with the beginning of the women's golf season. 

There was no hiding from the team the journey she was about to embark on, and that's exactly why a preseason meeting was in order.

"You have to tell them that everything is going to be all right, but in the back of your mind you don't know if everything is going to be OK," Campanell Komara said.

"They were definitely scared, but they rallied around me. Each of them was kind of a mom around me."

Senior captain Victoria Roney '18 was a huge part in that. After getting through the initial shock of the meeting, Roney took it upon herself to pull the team together and lead by example.

"I was the only senior - captain of the team," Roney said. "There were no juniors, five freshmen and three sophomores. So, we had a brand-new team where their personal relationship with her was nowhere near where mine was. I felt personally responsible to make sure I always check in and see what I can do. That was the least I could do."

While Campanell Komara was undergoing chemotherapy treatment the team was scheduled to take their spring break trip that reached down to Savannah, Ga. The team still made the trip with Campanell Komara in toll, but Roney and other members stepped up from helping out on the 12-hour drive to simpler tasks like carrying groceries.

 After a taxing year, Campanell Komara is now a breast cancer survivor.

Campanell Komara describes herself as a nurturing coach, but it was during this time her players reversed the roles and became a nurturing source for her.

"Coach genuinely doesn't show emotion a lot of the time," Roney said. "She is a very, strong positive person. I knew that was what she was going to be trying to do the entire season. In moments where she was sick and tired, and I could tell she couldn't push herself anymore, it really made me and the other team members step up to the plate.

"She was my mother away from home for four years," Roney added. "My Wooster experience would have been radically different for the worst if I wouldn't have met her."

The support was one of the most crucial aspects of Campanell Komara's journey.

Along with her team, she had her self-proclaimed "Scot Center Homies" in the athletic department in Administrative Coordinator Andrea Jeffers, Operations Manager Cassidy Wertman and head women's tennis coach Amy Behrman.

Head men's golf coach Rich Danch stepped in to help when needed. Assistant coaches Gary and Diane Welshhans and Jacki Zody did the same.

Campanell Komara also had her old sorority around for support.

She even had a friend in Denison University Athletic Director Nan Carney DeBord. The two had been friends since their basketball coaching days.

"She was the one who really walked the walk," Campanell Komara said. "Each day if it wasn't a card, it was a message or some kind of communication to check on me and provide support. Small gifts, anything she could think of to keep me through the day. So, she's tremendous. And that's your conference foe, but there's no way she's a foe."

What Campanell Komara learned through her battle with breast cancer is something she can translate not only to her life but through her students and student-athletes as well.

With no seniors this year's team had a historic fall season, capturing two first-place finishes in the same season for the first time in program history. They won their first tournament hosted by the College, the Scots went 33-3 against other collegiate teams and Wooster's student-athletes combined for 13 top-10 finishes.

"That last year was definitely a challenging year," Campanell Komara said. "It's crazy when you look back at it, and you're almost in a fog about it.

"You got to be stronger than what you are, and you really don't realize how strong you are until your back is pushed against the wall, and you got to fight for your life."