August 29th, 2016 started as a normal day for Laila Abdul Rahman. She woke up and caught the bus for school. She sat through multiple AP courses and attended a preseason basketball workout. Just as she was starting to get excited for senior year, everything changed.
Her mother, Martha, sat Abdul Rahman and her eldest younger sibling, Zayd, down to share devastating news.
“I have cancer,” said Martha Abdul Rahman, as she fought through tears.
Abdul Rahman recalls feeling her world stop. But very quickly, she swallowed the lump in her throat and refused to let the tears fall.
“I have to be strong,” Abdul Rahman told herself.
Being strong is a role Abdul Rahman has taken on ever since her mom’s diagnosis, considering she had to step up and care for three younger siblings throughout her mother’s extended hospital stays. Abdul Rahman parents relied heavily on her and her siblings to maintain some normalcy in the family’s Frederick home.
She never allowed herself to sit and sulk, and she quickly identified the reason why.
“My goals never changed.”
Her goals included winning a state championship on her basketball team, going to a university and playing basketball in college, and pursuing her dreams of becoming a pediatric surgeon.
While these are not small goals, Abdul Rahman kept up with her responsibilities at home and continued to excel in every other area.
Her senior year of basketball, Abdul Rahman and her teammates accomplished the goal that they had fallen short of the previous year. They won the Maryland state championship.
“Laila probably played her best two games of the season in the state tournament. It was huge for us,” said her coach, Ashley Bush.
Maybe this is because she knew her mom was at home watching a live stream of the game, too sick to make the trip to Towson University. Abdul Rahman doesn’t recall feeling extra pressure, adding that she wanted to make her mom proud in every game.
However, she didn’t just excel on the court. Abdul Rahman applied to multiple schools including University of Maryland, UMBC, University of Chicago, and Towson University. She was accepted to all of them with the exception of being put on a waitlist for the prestigious University of Chicago.
But her heart was leading her elsewhere. Abdul Rahman wasn’t quite ready to hang up her basketball shoes. And with her performance in the state tournament, she didn’t have to. Stevenson University offered her a position on the team, and she quickly made it official.
“Basketball got me through some of my toughest days, I wasn’t ready to give that feeling up.”
Abdul Rahman knows the ball is going to stop bouncing one day, and that her education that will carry her through the rest of her life. With her ultimate goal of being a pediatric surgeon, she called Stevenson a perfect fit because of their strong science programs and basketball team.
Moving about an hour away from home was an adjustment. Abdul Rahman found that her shyness was holding her back from making the most of the experience, but luckily, she made instant connections with her roommates who have continued to pull her out of her shell.
But once again, basketball was there to save the day, as she credits her teammates for being the number one factor helping her learn to relax and have fun.
With her mother in remission after a double mastectomy and a liver transplant, Abdul Rahman is starting to relax again. Her family is always in her heart and mind, but she’s beginning to not worry so much. Instead, she chooses to concentrate on her studies.
Her dedication is paying off. She’s just completed her first college basketball season and finished her first semester with a 3.47 GPA. But she’s still never satisfied.
“That’s actually bad, I’m a little embarrassed,” Abdul Rahman said of her GPA, “I’ll have to do better because my ultimate goal is medical school.”
While she knows nothing is certain, and she is still considering transferring to a less expensive school, Abdul Rahman says is confident the strength and faith she gained the last year and a half can get her through anything.
“College is easy in comparison,” she says.