Ahead of the 2020 “Wubble” season, Diamond DeShields had surgery to remove a benign tumor in her spinal cord, revealing her comeback story for the first time in an ESPN article released Saturday.
DeShields spoke with ESPN’s Holly Rowe about her diagnosis, the recovery process and winning a WNBA championship with the Chicago Sky after overcoming full-body tremors and considering retirement.
The guard had been playing overseas in 2019 when back pain led her to get an MRI, which revealed she had lumbar spinal schwannoma. Originally expected to be a three-hour surgery, the operation to remove the rare tumor took nine hours.
From there, DeShields began to rehab and suffered from tremors during the process. She worked with Ann Crosby, the Sky’s director of basketball operations and the head strength and conditioning coach, and Meghan Lockerby, the Sky’s head athletic trainer from 2019-20.
“Diamond would get tremors. It would get so bad where her whole body was seizing, to the point where she’s got tears rolling down her eyes, but she can’t speak,” Crosby told ESPN. “And she’s clawing at her face because she can’t control her hands. We’re just trying to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.”
DeShields added that she remembers “being in so much pain” and having no control over her bodily movements.
Over time, DeShields had to learn how to walk again despite wanting to keep pushing her recovery. According to ESPN, medical staff put an alarm on DeShields’ bed in the inpatient rehab facility to prevent her from sneaking out of bed to exercise.
“I’m not trying to learn how to walk,” DeShields said. “I’m trying to learn how to run and jump and defend and do all the things that, you know, a basketball player is supposed to do.”
She later made the decision to join the Sky in the bubble despite being unable to run in a straight line. She played 15 minutes in the Sky’s season opener and appeared in 13 games before leaving the bubble in late August, at the time citing personal reasons for the early exit.
“I always had to check my emotions,” she said. “‘Cause whenever I got emotional, I would start to have tremors. And these were good emotions or bad emotions, if I was happy or if I was crying. So I was always just trying to be even-keel, especially when I was around people.”
DeShields returned to the court last season and started in 22 games for the Sky. In the playoffs, DeShields made her biggest contributions, averaging 5.5 points and 15.7 minutes per game to help Chicago win the WNBA title.
The 27-year-old was traded in the offseason to the Phoenix Mercury, who were made aware of her medical journey. After missing the Mercury’s season-opening loss to the Las Vegas Aces due to an overseas commitment, DeShields is expected to play Wednesday against the Seattle Storm.
“I have a lot of expectations moving forward and kind of getting this off me now,” she said. “I’ve been sitting with this for a long time, you know? And it’s time that I put it behind me. I’m healthy now. And I expect a lot.”