Lauren Holiday retired from FC Kansas City last year to start a family with her husband, Jrue Holiday, who plays for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
That part of the plan is still in order: she is pregnant, with a due date in October. But Holiday’s retirement from soccer, at least for the time being, will also be marked by something much scarier. Holiday — formerly Lauren Cheney — has a benign brain tumor, and will have surgery after giving birth.
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jrue Holiday plans to miss part of the NBA season to care for his wife and child.
FCKC coach Vlatko Andonovski, who coached Holiday all three years she played for the club, said he has known about her health scare for a couple of months. Holiday, a 28-year-old midfielder, retired from soccer in 2015, but she has kept in touch with several people in the FCKC organization.
“We keep in touch quite often,” Andonovski said. “Obviously, she played for me, but we didn’t have just a coach-player relationship. We’re good friends, as well.”
Heather O’Reilly, who played with Holiday at both the club and national levels, has also known about the situation for a while. While Holiday was receiving treatments at Duke University Hospital, O’Reilly — who keeps a residence in her college town of Chapel Hill, N.C. — spent time with her.
“I think that what we do in sports — it’s not to belittle it because this is our passion and our livelihood and what we love to do — but there are some things that are bigger than sports,” O’Reilly said. “I feel like obviously what Lauren’s going through is bigger than anything we try to do on the field.”
Andonovski has routinely reached out to Holiday after her retirement to talk about the team, chat after games or ask for advice. But when Holiday texted Andonovski earlier this summer to tell him about her impending brain surgery, the conversations escalated to a more serious level.
“I basically told her how much I believed in her, and that if she makes up her mind to overcome it then she will,” Andonovski said. “Mentally, she’s very strong. I have no doubt in my mind she’ll be OK.”
Holiday was one of the early cornerstones of FCKC, and the franchise has retired her No. 12 jersey. She was one of the first to join the team upon its inception, and she received National Women’s Soccer League MVP honors in 2013. Her play in the midfield was crucial during FCKC’s championship runs in 2014 and 2015.
At the international level, Holiday’s mark was also felt. She was a key member of last year’s World Cup-winning U.S. squad, scoring a goal against Japan in the final. Upon retirement in 2015, Holiday had accumulated 133 appearances for the U.S. Women’s National Team, with 24 goals and two Olympic gold medals.
Although Holiday retired from the national team last year as well, she has still kept in touch with her former teammates. Many of her national teammates received an email from Holiday this summer detailing what she was going through.
“She actually wrote me a really sweet text after the Olympics, too, just saying ‘I’m really hurting with you guys,’ which is really sweet considering what she’s going through,” said Becky Sauerbrunn, who played with Holiday on the national team and with FCKC. “She was still watching us at the Olympics and feeling what we felt. That’s Lauren to a T. She has such a big heart and cares for everybody.”
When Holiday has surgery to remove the tumor — expected to be about six weeks after giving birth, according to the Times-Picayune — it will not be the first time she will have to recover from something that serious. At 3 years old, Holiday had open heart surgery, later making a full recovery.
Those around her have faith she will do the same once again.
“I have to say I am really worried, but at the same time, I know Lauren,” Andonovski said. “I know how determined she is and how strong is. She’ll kick butt and take care of it.”