VERONA (WKOW) -- Ebony Nettles-Bey remembers the first time she fell in love. It was second grade when she decided she wanted to spend the rest of her life with the game of basketball.
"I used to be a really good dribbler. So, my mom just told me to play. Ever since then, I really liked it a lot. Now, I don't want to stop playing."
Nettles-Bey's passion for the game was evident her sophomore season at Madison West when she earned first-team all conference honors and a scholarship offer from UW-Milwaukee.
Nettles-Bey had a promising basketball career ahead of her when she moved to Verona this summer.
"I was kind of nervous to see how I would fit in. I knew they were good because last year they beat us bad."
Verona head coach Angie Murphy was all smiles as she learned she would have the chance to add Nettles-Bey to an already strong squad.
"She changes everything you're able to do on the floor. You can't guard her one-on-one. So, she's going to draw so much attention that's going to get our other girls open to score."
But before Ebony could ever suit up for the Wildcats, she met the toughest opponent of her life.
"At a couple open gyms, I was having trouble breathing. Then, I went to an AAU tournament. I couldn't go up and down twice. I was just dead. Then, I went in to the hospital Monday. I had a lump under my breast like on my rib. So, my mom took me to the hospital. They said I had a lot of fluid on my lungs. That's why I couldn't breathe very good. After that, that led to me being diagnosed with sarcoma cancer."
The diagnosis stunned her mother, Katrina.
"They began to tell us I think the fourth day, 'This is the type of cancer she has. It's a possibility of Ebony beating this and there's a possibility of her not beating this.' So, I couldn't do nothing but just freeze."
Ebony was diagnosed with stage four Rhabdomyosarcoma. It is an uncommon and potentially deadly form of cancer.
"I thought I was going to die. So, I just started crying. Now, I don't think I'm going to die. I'm not really that scared of it anymore."
At the time of diagnosis, the odds were not in Ebony's favor. However, at that moment, the 16-year old made the choice...to keep living.
"When I first got diagnosed, they said I'm not going to be able to play basketball because I'll be too weak and stuff. I told them that I'm not too weak and I'm going to play."
The cancer, the surgeries, the chemo and radiation took Ebony's hair and ten pounds off her frame but her passion remained. She earned her spot in the Verona starting lineup, according to her coach.
"I would say she's at about 30 percent of what she's capable of, which tells you what she's capable of."
Nettles-Bey's courage inspired her new teammates. They began wearing new warm up shirts that read, 'Beat Cancer'.
"It made me more comfortable when they got the shirts. Because, at first, I didn't want to play with a bald head, but when they got the shirts, I was just like, 'OK."
Her first game, Nettles-Bey almost passed out, but she stuck with it.
"When I play basketball, I don't really think about cancer."
The girl who once wowed spectators with her play on the court is now inspiring by just taking the court. Even her mother is left speechless by her show of strength.
"Ebony is my big hero. She really is. I couldn't ask for a better hero than Ebony."
Ebony has found more than a sanctuary on the court. She's found inspiration.
"It kind of relates to cancer. If you give up in a game, like if you're getting blown out or something, then you'll lose but if you keep like fighting back and stuff, then you still have a chance to win. I'm going to beat it. I think that if I give up, I will die, but if I keep like being strong and stuff then, I won't."
Ebony doesn't look at the scoreboard much these days to see if she is winning or losing. It doesn't matter as long as she keeps playing the game.
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