Over the net: Carmen Unzue's fight past leukemia

The ASU volleyball team raised awareness about pediatric cancer earlier this season

“Hello everybody. My name is Carmen Unzue, and this testimony is dedicated to all people who are struggling with cancer like I did.”

A video played about halfway through the ASU volleyball match on Sept. 14 featuring the senior middle blocker as the 942 Crew filled Wells Fargo Arena to cheer on the team in its non-conference match against Gonzaga.

Unzue was diagnosed with leukemia at two-years-old. At the same time, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer, and her grandmother on her mother’s side was being diagnosed with another form of cancer.

At the game, the Crew wore and gave away bright yellow shirts that read “stick a fork in cancer" for national Stand Up To Cancer day. 

Unzue never spoke much about her cancer, even with teammates or coaches.

“We never had a conversation full on about it,” head coach Sanja Tomasevic said. “I cried when I saw her video. You can’t fathom something like that happening to a baby.”

Unzue was young when her cancer was potent, so young that she barely remembers treatments, nurses and the hospital. However, she remembers and gives credit to the person who was strong through it all – her mother.

Belen Unzue watched as her youngest child suffered from leukemia, her husband passed away from lung cancer, and her mother lost her fight with cancer as well.

Carmen said she doesn't know how her mom dealt with all the hardship and committed herself so much to her family.

The mother and daughter are very close, often at times talking on the phone for up to two hours, but rarely discuss the effect cancer has had on both their lives, until this year.

Belen Unzue, still in Spain, will make her way to Tempe to see Carmen Unzue play her last game as a Sun Devil on senior night, Nov. 24, which just so happens to be the anniversary of the passing of Carmen Unzue’s father. 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, according to the Children's Cancer Research Fund. ASU volleyball was also recognizing Pediatric Cancer Awareness weekend.

At that Sept. 15 game, 5-year-old Allie Gonzales took the court as ASU volleyball’s honorary coach.

Gonzales was diagnosed with leukemia around the same age Unzue was, but is now cancer free.

"It was really cool to have her,Sun Devil Athletics Marketing Coordinator Blaire Houston said. “Especially since we found out one of our players actually had leukemia ... they had a great connection."

Gonzales sat the whole game next to Tomasevic and the other coaches, cheering on the Sun Devils and even giving them high fives as they went on the court. 

Gonzales' presence surprised Unzue. In fact, she said it overwhelmed her. 

“For some reason she wanted to sit with me in the video room," Unzue said. "I don’t even know if she knew about me at all, but watching her on the bench, I was warming up and getting really emotional thinking about how I got here, and how everything can go wrong, but I am here.”



Reach the reporter at skbrisen@asu.edu or follow @sophiabriseno on Twitter.

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