As a soccer player for George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Cindy Schofield set the state record for the most goals in one season. That landed her a scholarship at Florida State University, where she shattered more than 30 career, single season and postseason records between 1999 and 2003. • Today, when the Tampa resident runs the 5K in the Iron Girl competition in Clearwater, she'll strive for a new goal: Finish the road race, from Pier 60 over part of the Memorial Causeway and back, in under 30 minutes. In doing so, the 28-year-old faces an opponent much more formidable than fellow competitors. • It's called tumefactive multiple sclerosis. • It's a very rare form of the disease, one that nearly killed her.
On a Sunday afternoon in January 2008, Schofield was training some soccer students when she began to feel dizzy. She attributed her blurry vision to the Lasik eye surgery she had a few weeks before.
Later that day, she developed a debilitating headache and ended up in a hospital where doctors diagnosed her with an inoperable brain tumor.
"They told my parents I had less than two years to live," she said.
The shocking news led her to the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute where a biopsy revealed she did not have brain cancer, but what appeared to be multiple sclerosis.
"My dad cried, he was so happy," Schofield said. "I went from a death sentence to a manageable disease."
But her symptoms — the dizziness and headaches — continued to worsen until she could no longer walk.
"I was just like a stroke patient; I lost all mobility on my left side."
Dr. Stanley Krolczyk at the University of South Florida Multiple Sclerosis Center determined she had tumefactive MS, an ailment that can masquerade as a brain tumor on an MRI. It can be deadly; Schofield said swelling in her brain almost killed her.
Krolczyk designed a protocol of three drugs: steroids, a plasma exchange and chemotherapy to suppress T-cells.
In the hospital, Schofield vowed she would not only walk again, she'd run in races.
"I knew one thing. I wasn't about to let this disease beat me," she said.
• • •
Schofield left the hospital in a wheelchair. She couldn't walk up stairs or drive, so her parents moved from Lakeland to her two-story home in Tampa to take care of her. Her bed, a rented hospital model, was placed downstairs in the middle of her living room.
Besides being paralyzed on her left side, she experienced frightening memory lapses. She would compensate by making lists, writing things down and keeping everything in the same place.
Her once active life became a depressing routine of doctor visits and physical and occupational therapy.
But Schofield had overcome tragedy before. Her fiance, a professional skydiver, was killed in 2002 when his parachute didn't open.
• • •
Eventually, Schofield graduated to a walker, then a cane, and finally to walking on her own, if unsteadily.
About six months after the incident, when physical therapists said they couldn't do any more for her, Schofield began working with a personal trainer at a gym to improve balance, coordination and strength.
She started to run — 10 yards at a time.
"I was very nervous about losing my balance and falling," she said.
Finally, she felt strong enough to enter the 5K Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October.
On race day, Schofield felt a bit wobbly but crossed the finish line in under 37 minutes.
"My mom was at the finish line crying her eyes out," she said.
These days, she jogs on a treadmill and on the Upper Tampa Bay Trail about four times a week.
She has run five 5K races since October and hopes to run a 10K soon. She has her good and bad days, and must take injections of an interferon drug three times a week.
Schofield hasn't had any major flareups since the disease first presented itself more than two years ago; her doctors say it's possible she'll never have such a major episode again. But she does have a constant tingling sensation on her left side, and needs to use various tricks to aid her memory.
"It's something I've had to learn to live with; it's a way of life."
Today, she's the head varsity coach for girls' soccer at Tampa Prep. This year, her team made it to the Florida High School Athletic Association Final Four soccer tournament for the third consecutive season.
"I'm hoping to manage the disease so that it doesn't interfere with the life I want to live," she said.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]