Mere minutes after the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh women’s basketball team defeated Ripon College to close out the UW-Eau Claire Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 17, the Titans, Redhawks, Blugolds and members of The College of St. Scholastica joined hands at midcourt for a moment of silence. The touching moment between competitors honored Nancy Pustina, mother of Titan senior guard Chloe, who had lost her courageous battle with breast cancer that morning.
Basketball a way of life
Jeff and Nancy Pustina were high school sweethearts from Highland, Wis. They moved to Cuba City in 1986, when Jeff began his teaching and coaching career at Cuba City High School. They started a family—first came Kaitlyn, then Kelsey and finally youngest Chloe.
As the family grew older, so did their passion for all-things sports. Jeff continued to coach the girls varsity basketball team at Cuba City, Nancy played recreational volleyball, and Kaitlyn, Kelsey and Chloe competed in basketball, softball and volleyball.
“A huge part of our family growing up was sporting events,” Chloe said.
Nancy rarely missed a game that Jeff coached or one her three kids played. She was in the stands when Jeff, Kaitlyn and Kelsey won three Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAA) Division 4 State Championships together and again when Jeff and Chloe won back-to-back WIAA Division 4 State Championships in 2014 and 2015.
It continued when Kaitlyn and Kelsey went off to UW-Platteville and each played a season of basketball and volleyball, respectively, and when Chloe decided to continue her basketball career with the Titans.
“She went to all our games, took us to all our practices,” Chloe said.
Sophomore year at UW Oshkosh was in full swing for Chloe…third semester of classes, basketball practices with games on the horizon. It all took a back seat when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2016.
“She called me on the phone, and it was in the early stages. There was a lot of testing to still be done to find out what kind it was,” Chloe said. “It came back that it was triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive type and one they don’t know a lot about.”
Nancy began chemotherapy immediately to shrink the tumor and followed that up with surgery. The doctors were confident they got the whole tumor, and tested lymph nodes showed the cancer cells had not spread.
Things were looking positive but then the cancer came back. This time in her lungs.
Nancy started more rounds of intense chemotherapy and entered into a few clinical trials. None were successful. The cancer spread quickly, moving into her liver and then to her brain.
“Throughout the whole process, my mom never complained and fought with such resilience, courage and hope,” Chloe said. “I knew my mom was extremely tough, but her battle with cancer was the most impressive thing I have seen anyone do.”
Two years and a day after her diagnosis, Nancy lost her fight with breast cancer.
Before her passing, Nancy was able to be in the stands to watch one last game.
“My mom was able to make it to our exhibition game versus the Badgers,” Chloe said. “This was a difficult time for me and I almost didn’t feel like playing, but my mom wanted to go to that game so badly. It was what my family had always done. It meant the world to me to not only have her in the stands supporting me, but also to help keep things as normal as possible for her during that time.”
A game for Nancy
On Feb. 6, UWO will host UW-Platteville at 7 p.m. at Kolf Sports Center. As the annual Pink Game in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness, the Titans will play this important Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Conference match up in honor of Nancy.
The Titans are raising funds for METAvivor, an organization chosen by the Pustina family.
“My family and I felt like we could help the cancer fight by giving to different organizations and we ultimately chose to do most with the METAvivor organization,” Chloe said. “We chose this one because metastatic breast cancer is a fatal diagnosis that needs to be researched more. Maybe this means a cure is still far away, but any little advancement could change the course of someone’s life in a huge way and that thought is amazing.”
For Chloe, not having her mom in the stands when she plays Wednesday—and as she closes out her collegiate playing career—is extremely hard, but the pain eases just little as she recalls with the lessons learned from her mom’s fight against cancer.
“Every time I feel like something may be too hard or I get too nervous, I think of my mom,” Chloe explained. “I think of the way she was never afraid, never complained and never quit. If she could battle like she did, I know that I will get through that exam, game, interview, job, or really anything that comes up in life.”