For South Florida Baseball & Softball, Fight Vs. Cancer Is PersonalFeatures
South Florida Bulls softball player Alexis Buchman — who is battling brain cancer and had a tumor removed in September – has the respect of everyone who has met her, especially Carmine Lane, her boyfriend and the third baseman for USF’s baseball team.
Lane is confident there will be a positive result at the end of all this for Buchman, who is expected to continue chemotherapy treatments until July.
“She’s the biggest fighter I’ve ever met,” Lane said. “She will do anything it takes to beat this.”
Lane, 21, has become sadly familiar with cancer.
His father, Tom Lane, has oral cancer and has essentially lost the skin from his bottom lip down to his chin.
Lane’s coach, USF’s Billy Mohl, lost his first wife, Sarah, to a rare form of cervical cancer on March 25, 2013. She was just 28 years old, gone after a seven-month battle.
At that moment, Mohl was left a widower, caring for their young son Hunter, who was three years old at the time and is now 11.
Mohl met Sarah when they were students at Tulane. Losing her after just five years of marriage has given him valuable perspective.
“There are a lot of things more important in life than a win or a loss,” Mohl said. “(Before Sarah died), I promised her I would continue this fight against cancer.”
That’s why this Sunday’s home game against Central Florida is designated as “Cut For The Cure.”
In an effort to raise funds for cancer research and to increase overall awareness, the South Florida coaches and players will have their heads shaved on the field following the UCF game.
It’s an annual event for the Bulls, and it started when Mohl was hired as an assistant in June of 2014. (He was named head coach in June of 2017.)
The team has partnered with Vs. Cancer, a signature fundraising campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Mohl is a co-chair for the organization.
Fundraising efforts continue throughout the year, but the Bulls will celebrate their contribution on Sunday.
Since Mohl arrived, the Bulls have raised more than $100,000 for the fight against cancer.
Friendship Becomes Love
Carmine Lane met Alexis Buchman at USF – in the summer session just before the official start of their freshman years.
The baseball and softball dorm rooms are near each other, and the teams met and formed an immediate friendship at a USF cafeteria.
Lane and Buchman are both infielders, and the bond was instantaneous. They haven’t yet talked marriage, but they have talked about getting a dog together, and that seems to be significant. (Lane wants a beagle.)
“She’s the funniest girl I’ve ever met,” Lane said. “She’s always dancing, anywhere, even without music. She still dances, just walking into a room.
“No matter what she is going through – school is stressful, softball is stressful – whenever she’s off the field, she is making the best of her time.”
Everything was going great with Lane and Buchman until August of last year. That’s when Buchman – who was visiting Lane in Wisconsin where he was playing summer ball — first started feeling a tingling in her left hand.
Once they got back to Tampa, Lane took her to a doctor.
“The nurse told her, ‘You should get an MRI. You might be having a stroke,’” Lane said.
Lane rushed her to the hospital, where they waited seven hours for the MRI. Finally, just before midnight, the doctor told her it was a stroke.
A second MRI discovered a brain tumor, which required seven hours of surgery.
Buchman, understandably, was not available to be interviewed.
But Lane said he is “staying as strong as I can for her,” helping Buchman in any way possible.
Lane’s focus on baseball has been phenomenal.
Entering this week, Lane leads the American Athletic Conference in hits (63) and RBIs (48).
Mohl said he has had “numerous” pro teams reach out to ask him about Lane, who could get drafted this year.
“I think he’s got a really good chance,” Mohl said. “The hit tool is there. The power is probably average at the pro level, but the kid can hit so a lot of teams are interested.”
Lane also ranks fourth in the AAC in doubles (13), and he tops USF in batting average (.342) and OPS (.950).
“Playing for them (Buchman and his father),” Lane said, “that’s my biggest motivation.”
Cherri Lane, Carmine’s mother, said she’s glad her son is a member of the Bullls.
“What happened to (Sarah Mohl) was terrible,” Cherri said. “But because of that experience, (Mohl) is the perfect coach for Carmine. He understands what it’s like.”
A Father’s Fight
Tom Lane, Carmine Lane’s dad, admires Buchman.
“She’s an inspiration,” he said. “She’s the toughest person I’ve ever met in my life.”
Lane, 52, is pretty tough, too.
Like his son, Lane was an infielder. His pro career lasted just 38 games in 1992, batting .266 with no homers before he was released from the Houston Astros’ Class A team.
At age 19, Lane started chewing tobacco while playing baseball, and it was a harmful habit that persisted and ultimately led to his oral cancer.
At some point well after they married and had Carmine, Cherri spotted a mark on her husband’s lip, but he claimed it was just sunburn.
Doctors who know the Lanes – some of them the parents of Carmine’s teammates – offered to have Tom checked out.
Tom did more than just decline the offer.
“He wouldn’t talk to them again,” Cherri said.
Tom hid his sickness for about five years.
Finally, on June 19, 2017, with his “whole bottom lip looking like a cauliflower”, according to Cherri, Tom finally went to the doctor.
Cancer has rocked Tom, who was listed at 6-3 and 220 pounds during his playing days but is now down to 190.
Tom has suffered permanent damage due to cancer. He has not returned to the doctor since his diagnosis, but he has promised to see his cancer specialist in November. That will mark five years since his diagnosis, and he is hoping to get the all-clear sign on cancer.
In the meantime, he’s in constant pain, and his diet is mostly liquid or soft foods such as quesadillas.
Talking clearly is also a challenge, but that hasn’t stopped Tom from making roughly 30 speaking engagements, mostly directed at young people.
Tom said some people have told him that his story has caused them to stop chewing tobacco. Carmine, who has never dipped, sometimes shows photos of his father’s lower jaw to summer-league teammates who chew tobacco.
“Trying to help people, I think that’s really what my purpose is,” Tom said. “I think God gave me (oral cancer) because I’m not ashamed of what I look like.
“My kids and my wife are not ashamed of what I look like, either, and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable and show people my weaknesses.”
Tom said he doesn’t feel bad for himself.
Instead, he feels bad for his wife and two sons, including DJ, 17, whom he and Cherri adopted eight years ago.
“He came into this family with a healthy dad, and he got this,” Tom said. “I preach to my kids all the time to make good decisions. Don’t do what I did.”
Cherri now supports the family, working exceptionally hard as a health-care staffing specialist.
Tom spends much of his time watching baseball. He goes to USF home games and then comes home and watches his son’s games all over again.
He will also watch other games from all over the country, including kids he once coached.
Tom said his son comes to him for hitting advice, which he happily offers.
“Sometimes I’m watching baseball until 3 a.m.,” Tom said. “That’s my whole life! I just watch baseball games.
“Cancer got my lip, but it didn’t get my brain.”