Transfer Decision For Anna Gable A True Family Blessing
Anna Gable with her family in 2019 following her brother's treatment for Burkitt lymphoma. From left, Jill (mother), Anna, Britt (brother) and Brian (father).
Anna Gable with her family in 2019 following her brother's treatment for Burkitt lymphoma. From left, Jill (mother), Anna, Britt (brother) and Brian (father).

Wednesday, February 24, 2021
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner For Communications

NAMPA, Idaho – Change is hard but for Anna Gable change was a blessing.

After a redshirt freshman season with the volleyball program at Western Oregon, Gable decided that transferring to Northwest Nazarene, close to her hometown of Boise, was her best choice. She left Monmouth during the spring break of 2019 and returned home.

While her experience at Western Oregon had been positive, change was already in the air. A coaching change was taking place and Gable, who was living away from the Treasure Valley for the first time in her life, longed to be closer to family.

While everything about the decision to transfer felt right, it wasn’t without its moments.

“I struggled with my decisions,” she said. “I was struggling mental health-wise being away from my family for the first time. I knew that the crutch of having them close by was going to be helpful.”

Two months after she moved, Gable’s brother, Britt, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Suddenly her decision, which had been clouded with doubt, was made perfectly clear.

She needed to be home. This was God’s way of bringing her back.

“I was grateful that I was coming home to NNU at that point,” Gable said. “If I was still in school, I would not have gotten home until the middle of June and I would have had to be away from my family during this super scary time. We didn’t know what was happening.”

Returning home not only allowed Anna to be able to be a constant support for Britt and her parents but also allowed her to eventually be able to play the game she loves without the constant angst of not being close by.

“It all made sense to me at that point,” she said. “I found the best support system at NNU. If anything had happened I know they would have been fine with me leaving but ultimately my brother got to come home. Everything worked out.”

Britt was working as a forest ranger on Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier in spring 2019 when he started developing a growth in his neck. The tumor was the size of a softball when he was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that is diagnosed in just 1,200 people in the United States annually.

Almost immediately upon diagnosis, Britt flew to Seattle and was admitted to Seattle Children’s Hospital for treatment, including an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. The Gable family spent much of the summer with him.

Anna’s first job was to provide whatever support she could to Britt. Being a 6-foot-6, 23-year-old man in a children’s hospital was uncomfortable enough let alone the treatment to come. Her next job was to be the public voice of Britt’s journey, publishing updates on social media and the CaringBridge website.

Taking Britt’s journey to social media was not just helpful to friends and family who could not be there in person, but for Anna as well.

“I didn’t know about cancer,” Anna said. “So I was just open to answering any questions that people had. It is such a scary thing. It was a hard thing for me to go through. Not many my age have had to go through something like this. I had no one to relate to and so I thought if I made it more of a public thing then it wouldn’t seem as fearful.”

The third task was to do anything to bring a little light to Britt’s life. That’s where the socks came in.

As she grew up, Anna and her father, Brian, had a tradition of giving each other fun pairs of socks to wear when either of them was undergoing surgery. In addition to keeping their feet warm, it helped both of them feel a little better looking at the socks when they woke up in recovery. It made sense, Anna thought, to start the tradition with Britt.

“At first it was chemo socks. I came over and gave him five pairs, one for every day at the hospital,” Anna said. “Eventually, it turned into something where people said, ‘We want to help out right now but you are in another state. How can we do that?’ So I started a sock drive.”

What started as five pairs turned into 270 pairs by the time Britt ended his treatment. He chose a different pair each day, highlighting them on his Instagram account as his “Sock of the Day.”

Many of the pairs featured outdoor themes like tents, campfires, trees and wildlife. Anything to keep Britt connected to the outdoors that he loved but could not experience while in treatment.

“The type of cancer he has was so aggressive that he couldn’t go outside at all,” Anna said. “Any dust or dirt or anything was dangerous. That was killing him, being a ranger and stuck inside.”

Outside of the socks, Anna was open to doing whatever Britt wanted to do. “We built Legos together,” she said. “He loves Legos and architecture so we did that a lot. Every time that I was able to visit we would build something together.”

While her mother, Jill, quit her job and relocated to Seattle for the duration of Britt’s treatment, Anna spent the summer going back and forth between Seattle and Boise. She worked during the trip and made the trip back to Seattle every weekend. The grind of going back and forth taught Anna an important lesson: Don’t be afraid to accept some help.

“I was stretched thin,” Anna said. “I started to realize that I have other moms that are here that want to help with groceries and friends that want to do things for me. And even though I was not the one going through the pain and prodding, I had emotional needs. Make sure you work with that because otherwise you will have leftover things that you need to deal with.”

By the time August rolled around, Anna Gable was back in Nampa full time for her first season with the Northwest Nazarene volleyball program. Despite the fact that she would have to sit out the 2019 season as a transfer, she was excited to be on the floor and getting to know her teammates.

While she was with her team, however, she was still carrying with her Britt’s continued treatment and the journey had family had been on since May. But a new addition to the program, Anna was hesitant to let many people know what her heart was holding onto.

“I wasn’t very open with it at the beginning,” she said. “I was nervous coming into a new school. I didn’t want any special treatment or anything.”

As it worked out, Anna did not tell head coach Doug English about Britt’s cancer until he was essentially finished with his treatment. When she did let English and her teammates in on the situation, she was responded to with nothing but love.

“The friendships that I have with this team outside of volleyball, I have never seen another team like it,” Anna said. “We genuinely love each other. I know that I can let it go at practice because once practice is over, they will still be there for me. Allowing myself to ask for help and genuinely knowing that all of my teammates want me to be okay really helps.”

A year later, Anna Gable is still part of a close Northwest Nazarene volleyball family. And after a delay to the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she is finally enjoying the excitement of being a college volleyball player. A starter in four of the Nighthawks’ five spring matches, Anna has 14 kills and leads the team with 18 blocks.

After not having played for three years, she is more than excited to finally be on the floor.

“It’s a whirlwind of emotions,” Anna said. “I am still so nervous every time I step out onto the court on game day. I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it’s like, ‘No way! I can actually finally play!’ I am just grateful for the opportunity to play.”

And while Anna is enjoying finally being out on the court, Britt has adjusted back to a fairly normal life. He recently moved to Ogden, Utah, to work for an online sporting goods retailer and plans to return to ranger work this summer.

With Britt in remission and Anna back in her proper place on the volleyball court, she looks back on the lessons that the experience taught her. A naturally optimistic person, she is finding the positives of the scariest journey of her life.

“Looking for the positives in the worst, I learned a lot in that,” Anna said. “I have a lot of gratitude for family and loved ones in general. We had more support and love than I could have ever thought possible. I am really grateful for all of our family and friends.”