A familiar face was missing from the middle of the diamond when the Farmington softball team took the field for its season opener Friday against Edina.
Standout senior pitcher Maddie Muelken wasn't far away, just in the Tiger dugout keeping the scorebook, but it was unfamiliar territory for a player so used to being in the center of the action. The same could be said for the entire last month: Muelken was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma on March 14.
In late February Muelken went in for a routine doctor visit that revealed a swollen spot on her neck and an elevated white blood cell count. More blood work, X-rays and scans followed, and on the week after spring break Muelken went in for a biopsy. Another surgery followed where a port was installed, allowing medications to be more easily injected.
It has been a lot to take in for a senior looking forward to her final season of high school softball, but Muelken is approaching the situation with a positive attitude and the same level of aggressiveness she attacks the strike zone with — she only walked 10 batters in 167 innings last season.
"The doctor said the best results and outcomes are more likely to happen if I just continue my normal life and pretend nothing is happening," Muelken said. "They said at my age it's the best type of cancer to get if you have to get one, that if you get it it's very rare that it comes back. I'm thinking of it as a bump in the road."
Muelken's optimism was bolstered on March 30 when tests showed the cancer had not spread to her bone marrow. On Tuesday she will go through her first round of chemotherapy and by next month will undergo another scan to see what progress has been made.
The good news on the softball front is doctors said Muelken should be able get back on the field in the coming weeks. She said she will continue to practice and talk with coach Paul Harrington about how she's feeling as her treatment progresses.
In the meantime, Meulken will cheer on her teammates from the dugout. She said she's glad her longtime catcher Emily Berdan is on the field to guide first-year varsity pitcher Becca Silber.
"It's nice having Becca as a strong pitcher behind me and knowing she can fill the spot too as things come along, and to have Emily out there calling the game and knowing what's going on," Muelken said. "I'm just keeping positive and cheering on my teammates, knowing I'm eventually going to play."
The team is there for Muelken, too. At Friday's game, the Tigers wore purple ribbons in their hair for Hodgkin's lymphoma awareness. Muelken said her family has also received meals and gifts from friends throughout the Farmington community.
"There has been so much support. It's kind of shocking. You don't realize how many people are with you and your family until you need it," she said. "It's been such a blessing."
Muelken is set to enroll in the fall at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where she has already signed a letter of intent to play softball.