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Steel City Surprise: “Cancer fighters need cheerleaders. I am Kyla’s.” 

ESPN reporter Holly Rowe changed her travel plans to give a Pitt women's basketball player and fellow cancer survivor a boost in person.

Pitt junior guard Kyla Nelson (L) was surprised by a visit from ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, a fellow cancer survivor. (Alex Mowrey/Pitt Athletics)

ESPN’s Holly Rowe had plans to arrive today (Wednesday) in Pittsburgh, Pa., for her reporter duties that begin with tomorrow’s NCAA Volleyball Championship.

And then she got a text ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson.

Rowe’s friend and colleague, Robinson, was on the call for last night’s ACC Network telecast of the University of Pittsburgh’s women’s basketball game against Miami (OH). The game would mark the return of Panthers junior guard Kyla Nelson, who had surgery in October to remove part of her colon after being diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor of the appendix.

Robinson, knowing Rowe is also a cancer survivor, wondered if she would mind shooting a video to share with Nelson.

“We can do better than that,” Rowe said.

She reached out to coordinating producer Pat Lowry, explained the situation and asked if she could travel into the Steel City a day early.

They agreed a surprise visit on a monumental day was much more appropriate than a selfie video.

“I was literally online ordering flowers to send to her, to wish her luck for her comeback and I realized. . . ‘Wait I will be in Pittsburgh 24 hours later for volleyball, maybe I can just go early and take the flowers to her in person!” Rowe said. “Cancer fighters need cheerleaders. I am Kyla’s.”

“Holly told me she wanted to go to Pittsburgh early to surprise Kyla,” Lowry said. “I immediately said yes, and asked Holly to work the game.”

Prior to the game, Rowe was waiting in Pitt’s locker room for Nelson when she returned from pregame treatment. The two, who had never met in person but had formed a friendship through text messaging and FaceTime, shared an emotional embrace and a few tears of happiness.

“I feel so connected and invested in Kyla’s battle just because we connected early in her diagnosis, and have kept in touch throughout her journey,” Rowe said.”I know how hard this is because I have lived it. . . trying to return after surgery and treatment to get back to something you love.”

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