Andee and Bianca Velasco, sisters in the same class at LMU, and teammates on the women's basketball team, share a truly remarkable bond. The sisters grew up in Yorba Linda, Calif. and have always attended the same school and been teammates on the same teams.
Andee and Bianca are about 14 months apart, as Andee was born on Feb. 6, 1996 and Bianca followed closely behind on April 25, 1997. Their closeness in age has allowed them the unique opportunity to experience all steps of life together, always on the same page and supporting each other through it all.
The Velasco's are from Orange County and attended Mater Dei High School where they excelled in basketball and in the classroom, and they were also teammates at the club level for OC Elite and Team Taurasi. Their father, Xavier, supported their love for the game and always made sure they were learning from the best coaches and trainers growing up.
When it came time for college, there was no question in their minds that they would end up at the same school. They also share the same major at LMU, earning degrees in Entrepreneurship, which they hope to use to go into business together in the future. Wherever they go and whatever they do, the two never stray too far away from each other. Their bond is truly special.
Many people on the Loyola Marymount campus might know the Velasco's and that they are both student-athletes on campus, but a lot of people don't know about the extremely difficult year they faced as sophomores in 2016-17. Their mother, Lisa Velasco, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on February 15-16, 2016 and passed away of the disease on April 5, 2017 at 9:04 p.m.
A loss of a loved one is extremely tragic and difficult no matter your situation in life, but for two young female student-athletes working tirelessly on the court and in the classroom day in and day out to lose their mother during the school year is truly devastating. The way the two sisters have responded after losing their mother shows their immense strength and their desire to make their family proud with every move they make toward their future.
Andee and Bianca describe their mother as the rock of the family, the glue that held everyone together. Their family is very tightly knit and close, as they have three other siblings -- older sister, Chanel, older brother, Xavier, and younger brother, Drake. It's a lot to manage a household with five children, but Lisa took pride in providing for her family by going above and beyond in her motherly duties. Andee and Bianca rave about her culinary skills and how extravagant her family meals were during holidays. They said that no matter what she might have had going on, she would drop everything in a moment to help her family in any given situation.
"Through this situation I really learned how much she cared around the people around her," Andee said. "She never spoke about herself or complained about herself. She was always trying to take care of her kids or trying to take care of my dad, just always putting everyone else before herself. I never even saw her cry or express the pain that she was going through with her chemo and through everything. She just remained strong and very selfless."
"She taught me what unconditional love truly means," Bianca added. "My mom never stopped caring. At one point she sent me a text and I knew she had a rough day at the doctor's office and I just told her how much I loved her and she responded saying `I just want to get better so I can help my family,' and it just shows how much love was in her heart. She wasn't even scared for herself, she was scared for her family. She was always there for us. I used to FaceTime her every day. She was my biggest hero, and I've never loved anyone like I loved her. All the way until the end, until her last moments, never a complaint, never a worry, just telling us how much she loved us and how she wanted us to be okay."
Both Andee and Bianca are so appreciative of the LMU community and their women's basketball network for being extremely supportive and comforting during their tragic loss.
"Being a student-athlete during this time has been great," Bianca said. "LMU has a great community and everyone has been very supportive and has really been there for us. Our teammates have been great too, they've always been there and have really uplifted us when we've needed them. They haven't let one day go by without remembering. They've helped us out on my mom's birthday, giving us a little gift and making us feel loved. I definitely think having Andee by my side has helped, just so I know I'm not alone, or when I do feel alone I know she's just in the room next door to me."
"Our teammates and coaches have been nothing but supportive and loving toward us," Andee added. "They've been there for us through every up and down with our whole situation."
Even while Lisa Velasco was going through her treatment and dealing with some of her worst days, she always made it to Gersten Pavilion to see her daughters suit up for all of their home games. The sisters said that they could always count on her to provide a smile and a thumbs up when they would glance up into the crowd during the game. No matter what she had going on inside, she continued to provide a spark of positivity for the family on the outside.
Although a day does not pass without some bit of sadness as they continue to miss their mother's presence, they remain positive and continue to strive to make her proud in everything that they do.
"The courage, faith and strength that Andee and Bianca have shown over the past year is nothing short of miraculous," Lions head coach Charity Elliott said. "They have continued to excel in every way and have been an inspiration to our team and a reminder always of what's truly most important. I know Lisa is with them always because I see her in them daily."
"LMU is such a wonderful community," LMU Director of Athletics Dr. William Husak said. "We support one another in so many ways. It is a big family, and the love and care we have for another is always in practice, but especially during those difficult periods in life. Losing your Mom is never easy, but I know Andee, Bianca and this team feel her spirit every day."
The Lions face off against San Diego at home at 2 p.m. today, as LMU hosts Pancreatic Cancer Awareness day on the bluff. Fans who wear purple to promote pancreatic cancer awareness will get their tickets at a discounted rate of $5, and the first 100 fans in attendance will receive purple LMU water bottles.
"This purple game is something special to help remember our mother, and it also brings awareness to the issue because pancreatic cancer is very deadly and it's always best to catch cancer in its earliest stages," Andee said. "Pancreatic cancer can metastasize and it can accelerate very, very quickly so you need to make sure you stay on top of your health and get checked up every once-in-a-while and have a good diet and make sure you're drinking a lot of water and eating right."
"With pancreatic cancer specifically, symptoms don't show up usually until Stage 4," Bianca added. "So it's really important to be on top of it and really be proud of your health because you never know what could happen and when it could happen and why."
Andee and Bianca hope that today's game will serve as a reminder for people to take the best care of themselves possible and be aware of what is going on in their bodies. They will never stop missing their mother, but they have learned so much from her and continue to share her story in hopes that it will help someone else in the future. It is evident that their mother passed along endless positivity to the two sisters that they continue to carry with them as they grow. Although she is not physically here with them, she is certainly here in spirit and motivates them each day.
"I just take every day one day at a time," Andee said. "Whenever something is tough, or might seem hard, I always remember how she went through the worst you could possibly go through and she was still smiling and caring about others. Whenever I get down or whenever something's really tough I know I can get through it and I know I need to get through it, because she got through it, and it's nothing compared to what she had to go through."
"This whole experience definitely strengthened me, and it's very motivating even though it is a very tragic story," Bianca added. "I'm very motivated to live a happy life, and to continue to be the person that she loved, and to spread the love that she instilled in me. I'm also very motivated to be the best person I can be to be healthy and to live a successful life, in honor of her. I want to continue to share her story and let everyone I come across know that I am who I am because of her."
It is without question that with each day that passes, Andee and Bianca continue to make their mother, and their entire family, so unbelievably proud. They will keep putting their best feet forward and remaining positive through all of life's ups and downs, and they will do so side by side like they always have.
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