In the first days after her younger brother was diagnosed with brain cancer, 9-year-old Lexy Kresl didn't really know what to make of it.
"He was really strange to me, like a different person," the Colorado sophomore forward recalled. "He acted different after his surgery. I didn't really process it."
By middle school, Kresl understood that her brother, Logan, diagnosed at age 7, had won a battle, but it came at a cost. The surgery that extracted the golf-ball-sized tumor from his brain left the right side of his body compromised. His speech was affected, his balance shaky, his right eye droopy, his right hand and arm less than fully functional. Formerly right-handed, Logan came out of surgery and had to relearn to walk, eat and talk, and become left-handed. So when classmates started to tease him, big sister became his protector.
By high school, Lexy Kresl understood that Logan couldn't do the things she could on the basketball court but would have given almost anything for her skill set. She learned to appreciate her talent all the more because of that.
"He still mentions to me that he wishes he could play," Lexy said. "And when I think about everything he's been through and I'm having a tough day, I just think, 'If Logan can do what he's doing, I can do this. It's just a game.'"
Ten years have passed since her brother was diagnosed with anaplastic medulloblastoma, among the most challenging brain tumors largely found in young children. Lexy draws strength from Logan's fight every day, on and off the court. And though the Arizona native gets to see younger brothers Logan (now 17) and Colten (14) only a few times during the season, her self-appointed "lucky charm" will be courtside this week, when the Buffaloes travel to Arizona and Arizona State.
At the very least, Logan makes Lexy feel lucky that she is on the floor, doing what she loves. "He's definitely my inspiration," she said.
Lexy remembers when her brother first started showing symptoms that something wasn't right. The Kresls were on a family trip to Disneyland and Logan was struggling on the rides with nausea and extreme headaches. "He came home and he was throwing up every day, missing a lot of school," Lexy said.
Kresl's father, John, is a radiation oncologist and an expert in the fields of Gamma Knife and CyberKnife technologies, both sophisticated radiation techniques. He sees the irony that he was treating some of his young patients with the very same disease that afflicted his young son.
"I had some expertise in it," John Kresl said. "It was bizarre."
When he put the MRI scans up on the light screen, he recognized instantly what he was looking at. And it was devastating.
"It will be imprinted on me forever," John Kresl said. "I will never forget for a split second how I felt when I saw that MRI. I didn't think he'd live six months. The survival rate for what he had was less than 15 percent."
Two of John's closest friends performed the surgery on his young son, one of them flying in from another state the same day Kresl made the call.
John Kresl closely tracked his son's treatment as Logan endured chemotherapy and radiation following surgery. He expedited tests, read films and made the experience more understandable to his family.
"I didn't oversee it, but I knew the how, what and when," John Kresl said, "and I could ensure things were happening."
Lexy was an active part of the support system at home when Logan returned after surgery and throughout his grueling radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
"They would hang out together, take naps together, she'd read books with him," John Kresl said. "As she got older, Logan still hung around. He'd go to the gym, come to practice, go to games. He'd be out on the court with the young brothers at halftime, shooting. He still loves shooting the basketball, but you could see that it was difficult for him. He was just not as coordinated as the other kids."
John's experience in medicine doesn't make him immune from the frustration of Logan's lasting limitations. He watches his oldest child play elite college basketball, while his youngest participates in sports, including basketball and soccer.
And he watches Logan struggle, both physically and socially. It is not easy to look different in high school. Logan has had multiple surgeries to correct his eyesight, though he still experiences double-vision. He has long limbs on a thin frame, one that John Kresl said "locked" into place in the shoulders and hips when he was about 8 years old. Logan's pituitary gland was affected by the radiation treatments, impacting his growth.
But Logan is also an honor-roll student, taking a full class load. He drives and is working part-time at a local grocery store. Logan still takes shots at the basketball hoop outside the Kresl's Arizona home, but chess is his game now.
"That's what I do now," Logan said. "Not so much tournaments and stuff, but I play online."
"There are five people in our family, and four of us really do move at a different speed," John Kresl said. "He's much more laid back than the rest of us, and it's a good reminder that we can all slow down. "
John remembers when Logan could do everything his siblings could do.
"Lexy started playing basketball at 4 and we were in gyms all the time. Logan was in the gym from the time he was 2 years old, he grew up with the ball," John Kresl said. "When I look at all three of my kids, when they were all 7, Logan was the most talented, the most gifted athlete of the three of them. He really was a player, and then, boom, everything was taken away from him.
"I know he misses basketball and football. We still place a significant emphasis on it in our family. We go to Lexy's games, we talk about them. People at church ask us about how she's doing. I think he feels a little bit left out, but he just deals with it. He's probably accepted it better than I have."
Logan admits that he wishes he could be out there on the court, experiencing the same things as his siblings.
"When they make a good play, I think, 'I wish I could still do that,'" Logan said. "But I like watching them play."
And he is looking forward to watching his big sister play this coming weekend.
Lexy is having a solid sophomore season for the No. 21-ranked Buffaloes, which sit in fifth place in the Pac-12 standings. In 23 games (and 16 starts), she leads Colorado with a team-high 29 3-pointers and is averaging 6.3 points and 2.9 rebounds.
"I think Logan has given her the ability to really move through stuff," John Kresl said. "She has a pretty amazing capability to push herself in ways that some other people haven't found yet or aren't willing."
Better than a good-luck charm any day.