LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – Nate Dreiling has always been successful, be it as New Mexico State’s defensive coordinator, or as a national champion, all-American linebacker at Pittsburg State.
But now, Dreiling and his family have a new challenge that goes far beyond football, one that will force them to, “be brave,” every single day.
Dreiling and his wife Alexa met how so many married couples do: in college when they were both star athletes at Pittsburg State in Kansas (Alexa was one of the Gorillas’ best women’s basketball players).
A lot has changed for the Dreilings a decade later; throw 3 kids and a college coaching career at stops around the country into the mix.
“We were the same age and just little college sweethearts,” Alexa said. “I really like this lifestyle. It has some challenges, but overall it’s been really fun.”
As the Aggies were preparing for their first season in Conference USA this summer, a new, much more difficult challenge hit the Dreiling family.
While Alexa was breast feeding the family’s newest child, Baisley, she noticed a lump. What she first thought was a clogged duct or mastitis persisted for a few weeks, so she went to the doctor.
After multiple doctor’s visits, she got the official diagnosis on Aug. 10: HER2-positive breast cancer at just 31 years old. HER2-positive is an aggressive form of cancer, but thankfully for the Dreilings, it appears it was caught in the very early stages.
“The only reason they found it was because she had a four-month old kid and she was breast feeding. If not, the doctor said it would’ve been about 10 more years,” Nate Dreiling said.
As a former athlete herself, Alexa has formulated a game plan to get through the treatments, which will consist of four months of chemotherapy, followed by a surgery. At 31, she’s almost 10 years younger than the doctor-recommended age for women to begin mammogram screenings.
“The mental turmoil you go through is a lot. I am fine facing the physical parts of chemo. But being a mom of three and it’s football season so Nate is not here as much, I just want that strength to proceed like life is normal for them,” Dreiling said.
They say it takes a village and that’s been the case for the Dreilings the last few weeks, from the help of their extended family on the NMSU coaching staff making meals and helping out at home, to the support of strangers near and far.
“From all of Las Cruces to people all over New Mexico, it’s been awesome. She’s tough. The outreach has been very positive for us and it goes a long way,” said Nate Dreiling.
The Dreiling’s rallying cry since Alexa’s diagnosis has been two simple words: Be Brave. It comes straight from a pep talk given by the Dreiling’s three-year-old daughter, Baylor.
“It was the day before her doctor’s appointment to find out if she had cancer or not. She was home with the kids and crying in the room and our three-year-old walked in,” Nate Dreiling said. “She asked, ‘what’s wrong mommy?’ and mom said, ‘I’m scared to go to the doctor’s tomorrow.’ Baylor went up to her and whispered in her ear, ‘be brave.’ So that’s been our mantra as we attack this thing.”
The line, “Be Brave,” is something Alexa has told her daughter lately to get her to be more comfortable going to school. A shy kid, “Be Brave,” was words of wisdom from Alexa to Baylor that was then turned back and used on mom.
“Here is my three-year-old giving me advice g that I’ve been giving to her. It’s just like, if my three-year-old can tell me to be brave, by God I’m going to be brave,” Alexa said.
“Be Brave,” is now printed on pink wristbands worn by many of NMSU’s coaches and players, with Alexa and the family on their mind throughout the process. The wristbands were the idea of one of the other coach’s wives. Don’t be surprised if fans and other athletic department employees get involved, too.
“He’s the type of dude you have to ride for. He’s going to do whatever it takes. I know she’s very strong and the Dreilings are very strong and the kids too. We all want to play for him,” said NMSU junior quarterback Diego Pavia.
Alexa began treatment last month and she was honored during NMSU’s win over FIU, while families of the other coaches wore pink wigs in support
. When she’s cured, the Dreilings plan on giving back to breast cancer research and patients around the world, but haven’t figured out exactly what they want to do just yet. Right now, the family is focused on the fight.
“You can be pissed off and mad and sad, but then you have to dust yourself off and we’re going to fight like hell,” said Alexa Dreiling.