Texas athlete overcomes cancer, heads to Tokyo Paralympics to represent USA

Jillian Williams is part of the sitting volleyball USA team

A Texan athlete is headed to Tokyo for a chance to win the gold during the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games.

SAN ANTONIO – A Texan athlete is headed to Tokyo for a chance to win gold during the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games. Jillian Williams is a sitting volleyball player representing Team USA.

William’s left leg was amputated five years ago due to Ewing sarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. Although a big adjustment, the athlete said the surgery didn’t debilitate her, rather, it lit a fire under her to accomplish what she at times thought was impossible.

Jillian Williams played volleyball through grade school. It was during her first year at Texas Lutheran University that everything changed. Williams was able to finish out the season but never returned to the court due to severe pain in her left femur. Doctors later attributed the pain to the rare form of cancer.

“I was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2016, a semester after my freshman season,” Williams said. “I also made the realization that I probably wouldn’t ever play volleyball again.”

Her new team, led by Dr. Aaron Sugalski, became the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio and the Pediatric Blood and Cancer Center at University Hospital.

“He just assured not only myself, but my parents that he was going to do whatever he could to make sure that I had the best way of life,” Williams said.

Williams underwent more than two dozen rounds of chemotherapy.

“I felt like (chemotherapy were my) weekly sleepovers with my best friends because (the nurses) were there and especially, like my night nurses,” Williams said. “(At night was when) I would get more anxious about treatment.”

Her fight against Ewing sarcoma did not end there. Williams and her doctors agreed surgery was needed to provide the best quality of life. At Houston’s MD Anderson, she underwent rotationplasty: a surgical procedure that removes the cancer and preserves mobility.

It was during her stay at the hospital that she received a sports magazine and saw someone who looked like her.

“I started looking up more about sitting volleyball and what it actually was, because at that point I decided I probably would never play again,” Williams said. “I saw someone with the same surgery as I had, and so I decided to reach out to her.”

The sitting volleyball Paralympian, Lora Webster connected with Williams and told her who she needed to contact. Years later, Williams is part of Team USA Sitting Volleyball team headed to Tokyo. Williams and Webster will room together ahead of their competition on Aug. 28.

“I’ve always aspired to be the best that I can be, not only for myself, for my community, my friends, my family,” Williams said. “To be able to go over (to Tokyo) and represent, it’s so humbling and so exciting. I’m just so thankful every time I step on the court, and I just thank God for everything.”

Williams hopes her journey will inspire others to embrace the qualities that make them unique and use them for good.

Williams 5-year cancer-free milestone is in January 2022.

About the Authors:

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Rick Medina is a Video News Editor at KSAT. A graduate of the University of Texas' prestigious Radio-Television-Film program, he has been in the news business for more than 20 years. Rick is also a documentary filmmaker, helming the award-winning film festival favorites, “The Opossum Begins” and “Amigoland.” He is originally from Brownsville.