Rebels volleyball captain Taylor Gray lead team to RRC’s first MCAC championship while awaiting cancer test results.

Taylor Gray sets up to kill a ball in the MCAC championship game on Feb. 24, 2019./ SUPPLIED BY HEIDI MARTENS

By Kellen Taniguchi and Jake Maurice

At every timeout during the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference [MCAC] championship game, Rebels women’s volleyball captain Taylor Gray ran to the bench to wrap an ice pack around her neck.

Gray, 23, experienced hot flashes where her face would turn completely red.

“When I would exercise the tissue would swell up and press on my throat,” said Gray.

Gray knew what these symptoms meant.

A month before the play-offs began, Gray was tested and told she may have cancer.

“That month I was playing and practicing knowing that was a possibility, which was pretty hard … trying to focus on school and volleyball knowing this was going on,” said Gray.

Play-offs and schoolwork helped keep Gray’s mind off the bad news.

“I feel like I haven’t really had time to worry,” said Gray.

Gray is graduating this spring from paramedics at Red River College. She played a big role in winning the MCAC championship.

Taylor Gray, 23, holding the MCAC Championship trophy after their victory over CMU on February 24./ SUPPLIED BY HEIDI MARTENS

On Feb. 24 the Rebels beat the top-ranked CMU Blazers in a five-set thriller. The championship is the first in school history for women’s volleyball.

“It felt pretty amazing,” said Gray. “In the 12 years I’ve been playing I’ve never actually won a championship.”

Rebels women’s volleyball head coach, Dan McGregor, has coached Gray since Grade 9 and was happy to see her finally win a championship in her last year.

“Her achieving this type of goal meant a lot to both of us,” said the 39-year-old. “It felt like it was a fitting end.”

Outside of her family, Gray had only told McGregor about her condition.

“At that point, volleyball was secondary,” said McGregor. “It was just trying to be supportive for her and doing what’s best for her.”

Following the championship game, Gray had a biopsy done.

“I had ten needles inserted in my neck,” said Gray.

The results came back – it was cancer.

Gray will have surgery to remove her thyroid and all of the lymph nodes in the left-side of her neck.

“I’ll have to get an incision from about the middle of my neck … all the way to the back of my neck to take out all the tissue,” said Gray.

Following surgery, Gray believes she will need to get radiation therapy to make sure all of the cancer is gone.

Gray said she was prepared for that answer, because she has been dealing with these symptoms for almost three years now.

Gray’s first concern when she received her diagnosis was what it meant for school. Gray was worried she might not be able to write exams, but she said she will be in the hospital recovering from surgery and will be able to study.

Gray said she doesn’t want people to look at her any differently. She said just because a doctor told her she has cancer, it isn’t going to change her routine.

Taylor Gray helped lead Red River College to their first women’s volleyball MCAC championship in school history./ KELLEN TANIGUCHI

“If you’re worried and think ‘I have this condition or I’ve gotten diagnosed with this,’ it doesn’t mean your life has to stop,” said Gray.

Gray has no regrets about playing volleyball and continuing in school during her fight with cancer.

During the three years Gray was dealing with cancer symptoms, she lived in a hammock for three months in a Panama jungle, hiked mountains by herself, worked outdoors at a camp for six months and lived in her car in B.C.

“If I can do all that with cancer, I can move forward,” said Gray. “I keep reminding myself if I can accomplish all of that and win a MCAC championship, I’ll be fine.”