Formeus-Marshall Inspires Women's Hoops Teammates
Emani Formeus-Marshall is used to dealing with adversity and adjustments.
When she was 12 years old, Formeus-Marshall's family left the comforts of North Miami in Florida to move to Carteret, N.J.
"It wasn't the best year for me," Formeus-Marshall said. "My family is Haitian-American, so we had to adapt to a new life here."
For a while, Formeus-Marshall was a bit of a vagabond.
"We moved all over the place," Formeus-Marshall said. "We moved from Carteret to Newark for two years, then moved to Montclair, then back to Newark. We were all over."
Formeus-Marshall was enrolled as a student at Bloomfield Tech, where the 5-foot-9 Formeus-Marshall became a star, especially as a defensive player and rebounder.
"I was pretty excited getting colleges to come see me play," Formeus-Marshall said. "I always wanted to play college basketball."
Formeus-Marshall gained a reputation for being a tenacious rebounder.
"I was able to get rebounds over some six-footers," Formeus-Marshall said. "I was pretty good."
Formeus-Marshall was good enough to gain the notice of Rutgers-Newark assistant coach Tiffany Conner.
"Tiffany saw Emani at a tournament and noticed right away she was a rebounder," Rutgers-Newark head coach Ashley Cieplicki said. "Tiffany said that Emani worked hard and got rebounds. We needed someone like that."
So the Scarlet Raider coaching staff was able to secure Formeus-Marshall's services last spring.
"I was hoping to get a chance to go away to school," Formeus-Marshall said. "But I was glad to go to a respectable college. I was going to get a Rutgers degree, which isn't bad at all."
Formeus-Marshall enrolled last spring and was set to major in public administration.
But before she came to R-N, Formeus-Marshall noticed a change in her demeanor last May.
"I just lost the athleticism I always had," Formeus-Marshall said. "I didn't understand it. I couldn't jump and I used to be able to jump to the moon. My knee kept giving out. It was so bad for a while. I was in the worst place possible."
Formeus-Marshall first suffered a seizure, then the knee kept giving out. She then went from specialist to specialist, until one neurologist sent Emani for an emergency MRI test after her whole body became tight and rigid.
It was diagnosed that Emani had a brain tumor that completely paralyzed her on the right side. The cancer was called anaplastic ependymoma.
Anaplastic ependymoma is a type of malignant tumor that is commonly found in young patients under the age of 25. It's a rapidly growing form of cancer that has to be treated aggressively and quickly. The tumors grow from cells inside the brain cavity or spinal column.
Depending upon where the tumor is located, anaplastic ependymoma can produce several different symptoms, ranging from difficulty walking, trouble sleeping, memory loss and even a loss in sight.
So Formeus-Marshall had to undergo a precise, tedious operation to remove the tumor and begin the rest of her life.
"My tumor was in the brain near where motor skills are controlled," Formeus-Marshall said. "I was paralyzed on my right side and spent two months in the hospital."
Formeus-Marshall underwent nine hours of surgery to remove the tumor. She was a patient in the Children's Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick for more than two months.
The news floored Cieplicki and her coaches.
"Emani came in and told me she was going through some stuff," Cieplicki said. "Then, her mom came in to see me and told me. It was a shock. We told her mom that we would definitely do whatever we could to help."
So instead of being an active freshman on the Scarlet Raiders' women's basketball team, Emani Formeus-Marshall is a student who has to undergo regular sessions of radiation therapy. The surgery affected part of her brain that has cut down on her motor skills, so Formeus-Marshall will more than likely not play this season and take a medical redshirt year. She is also going to the famed Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange to receive outpatient physical therapy on a regular basis.
But for now, Formeus-Marshall's name appears on the R-N women's basketball roster.
"She's here for everything," Cieplicki said. "She's 100 percent part of the team."
Formeus-Marshall was asked what has given her the strength to continue to be an active member of the Scarlet Raiders, even if she cannot play right now.
"I think what's made me persevere comes from what kind of person I am," Formeus-Marshall said. "It's pretty hard to grasp what I've gone through in my life, but I know people have gone through far much worse than what I have. I know I can be an inspiration to others who have the disease. If I can help them through, that's great."
Cieplicki said that she's motivated by Formeus-Marshall's plight.
"I think this defines her as a fighter," Cieplicki said. "She's balancing the school work with the medical stuff and still has time to come to practice. We're taking the positive view here. There are days where she struggles, so those are the days she stays home. It can be overwhelming for a college freshman. It's disappointing in many ways that she's not playing with us. But she's here most of the time and we all can draw strength from that."
A year ago, when Cieplicki first took over at R-N, the Scarlet Raiders got involved with the not-for-profit Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, formed in 2005 after 9-year-old Jaclyn Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation aims to improve the quality of life for children battling pediatric brain tumors and other childhood cancers by pairing them with local high school and college sports teams.
More than 300 college teams throughout the country have joined the fight and is helping the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, based in Hopewell Junction, N.Y. By the way, Jaclyn Murphy, active with the Foundation, just celebrated her 22nd birthday with the New York Yankees, one of the biggest and most recognizable sponsor to the FOJ Foundation.
"It's so much more than basketball now," Cieplicki said. "Emani has been unbelievable with everything. She talks about it all the time with her teammates."
Formeus-Marshall has not given up the dream of taking the floor for the Scarlet Raiders one day.
"I want to play next year," Formeus-Marshall said. "That's a major goal for me. I want my life back. Having brain cancer really didn't make sense to me. I'm still going through that. But I'm going to try."