CHICAGO – Returning from her final chemotherapy treatment, DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto noticed a commotion outside her home near campus.
"There must be some kind of protest going on," she thought.
As her husband drove closer, she realized at least 100 people were around her front porch, and almost all were wearing the school's blue and red colors. Then she recognized the faces of athletes and coaches and heard them cheering and chanting, "J-L-P."
"It was, 'Oh, my gosh, it's our kids,'" Lenti Ponsetto said. "It was the first time I cried. It was kids from every sport, our coaches and staff.
"It was incredibly inspirational. The kids were so relieved for me. For them to want to share that with me, it was really cool."
Speaking for the first time publicly about her breast cancer diagnosis and recovery, Lenti Ponsetto said that moment was "one of the best days of my life."
Not only because she had reached an important stage in her treatment, but also because the outpouring of support validated her life mission of more than 40 years at DePaul.
The pep rally outside her door was only a fragment of the support Lenti Ponsetto said inspired her as she quietly, steadfastly and successfully took on breast cancer over the past 12 months.
"I've always loved my job, but I really loved my job last year," she said. "Every day I walked in this building, the kids and the coaches and staff, I couldn't do anything but be in a position to fight."
Because of family history, Lenti Ponsetto was not entirely surprised when a mammogram in December 2014 revealed Stage 2 ductal carcinoma, spread into her lymph nodes. That led to chemotherapy from January through April, a mastectomy in June, radiation treatment in August.
And a cancer-free proclamation this fall.
Lenti Ponsetto credits her playing days at DePaul in four sports in the 1970s for much of her "competitive" approach to beating cancer. That and a must-win attitude.
"I never had a dark day," she said. "I was so motivated. I was so inspired to get on with it, to get through it and get back to what I love to do. I just didn't think of myself as sick."
The DePaul administration offered her a leave of absence and any flexibility she needed, but she decided to work through her treatment.
Joe Ponsetto, her husband, intervened, but was "politely told to stand in the corner and she would do what she wanted."
She was initially reluctant to let anyone know. She had hoped to spare her father, a 40-year cancer survivor who is in his 90s. When he found out, he asked her, "You're not dying, are you?"
Her response: "No, Dad. I got this."
She let her staff know in a meeting and hoped nobody would treat her differently. Instead, they rallied around her, she said.
"Since the day I walked in, Jeannie has had open arms for me," said Tommy Hamilton IV, a junior center on the basketball team. "For her to get up and come to work and grind it out, it gave us more energy."
During her chemotherapy, teams took weekly turns cooking for her — from Hungarian and Spanish dishes by the women's tennis team to a massive pasta and sausage meal by the men's basketball team. Players checked on her daily.
The school's director of medicine came to her house to inject her with shots. A former women's basketball manager sent her holy water from Lourdes.
Lenti Ponsetto finished her radiation in October, what she considered the fourth quarter of her "compete and defeat" battle with cancer. Doctors told her she is free of the disease.
For Lenti Ponsetto, those words signified victory.
"Winning feels a lot better than losing," she said. "Right now, I feel like I got a win."