This is OUR team…this is why we Play.

At this point, the list of things that Coach Yow knew is very long. And it grows each day.

Today is day 9 of the 2018 Play4Kay official window. Today’s realization: Coach Yow envisioned Play4Kay as she did because she knew teams would accomplish more than individuals. So true.

More to the point, she knew it would take a team to beat cancer. Even more true.

Sharon Versyp, Beth Courture and Terry Kix are a team. They are three members of the Purdue women’s basketball coaching staff who have battled cancer. So far, their record is 3-0 against cancer.

In March 2009, Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, she was head coach at Butler University. She almost canceled her doctor’s appointment because the team had gotten in late the night before. Thankfully, she did not cancel. Her life changed that day and, though they didn’t realize it yet, so did the lives of Terry Kix and Sharon Versyp.

Fast forward. It is the week before Thanksgiving 2012, Terry is diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer. She immediately went into fight mode. She saw cancer as the opponent, an opponent with a 90-95% chance of besting her. It was grueling. The odds indicated a Daniel versus Goliath match up. The odds were wrong.

When Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017, Beth and Terry became her teammates in a way that perhaps no other adversity could have crystalized or magnified. They understood what Sharon’s daily journey consisted of and were able to come along side her in the midst of the battle.

Three women. Three separate and very different battles. Three wins. One team.

On every team, there are different roles. Each important, each has their time, their contribution. In the fight against cancer, we all have a role to play, a piece to contribute.

For the last 9 days, we have been in the official Play4Kay window. It is the ultimate team event. Teams from across the country, working together, to get the biggest win – the win against cancer.

This is the way Coach Yow saw it. All of us teaming up to beat cancer. When we Play4Kay, we play for each other. We play for those who have battled, those who are battling.  We know there are battles still to come – we are playing for those too.

As we Play4Kay, look around you…sometimes the women we are battling for are the same ones we are battling with. Know your teammates. Who do you Play4?

#PLAY4KAY

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

The Sound of Hope…

If you listen to Angel Elderkin’s heart, it likely sounds like the steady bounce of a basketball. She is a coach. Her players, her staff, are family. Basketball is life.

The ball bounces.

They say when you have a life-threatening experience, you see your life flash in front of your eyes. If that is the case, a cancer diagnosis probably causes your priorities to flash in front of your eyes at lightspeed.

The word cancer is spoken, like it has been said a million times before, only this time someone was speaking to you, about you. The ball bounces quicker, much quicker. Now you are in a full court press, you are racing the clock. The only thing is, you do not know exactly how much time is on the clock.

Angel Elderkin was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer after a series of health concerns and a month of tests resulted in an eventual diagnosis. Now her priorities crystalized into a string of questions:

How would she tell her team?

What about the upcoming season?

Would there ever be a day as normal as yesterday? Ever.

Maybe those were the first questions because they were the most basic to her day to day life. Maybe those were the first because she would not allow herself to ask round 2:

What would the course of treatment be?

What were the implications for fertility?

What were the odds of survival?

At some point, the ball started to bounce at a slightly less feverish pace. She attacked cancer as a true coach. She scouted her opponent, created a game plan, and then put the long tough days it would take to win.

Telling her team was one of the hardest points. She remembers that day and can not describe the moment in detail, the intensity of emotion was so great. “I had to get in front of them, tell them the truth, see their emotion back, be vulnerable with my own emotion, but then reassure them I would be okay. Everyone in the room had different reactions. They all have been touched in some way,” she recalls.

There was the surgery, a full hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and rounds of radiation. It was intense, but so were her people.

The outpouring of support from her team, the Appalachian State community, the national community of women’s basketball coaches…the cadence of balls bouncing from across the country, the rhythm of encouragement, the sound of hope.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

The Untold Stories…

The stories of survival are all important. Piece by piece we learn how to fight, how to find life, how to construct hope. Inevitably there are aspects of each story that stand out.

The first thing that stands out in the story of Jazz Perazic is that she admits she took gambles with her health. Gambles that many of us take from time to time – gambles that could have cost Jazz her life. The common thought, “it won’t happen to me,” leads to a faulty interpretation of our own priorities. Nonetheless, it is with that thought in mind, we as women, postpone annual physicals, delay getting mammograms, and avoid the very tests that could save our lives.

Jazz recalls having her first mammogram on schedule, but then skipping a few years, maybe 10 or 12 years. In 2016 she decided to go again. Thank goodness.

When her doctor recommended a post-mammogram follow-up, Jazz put it off—for months. Maybe it was denial. Can a problem without a name really be a problem?

When she finally brought herself to have the follow-up, the problem was given a name – cancer.

In the time that had passed since her mammogram, her tumor had grown substantially (now a 6-centimeter tumor), but thankfully had not spread beyond the breast. She was fortunate, a more aggressive form of cancer would have taken her life given as much time.

The other part of Jazz’s story that pushes us forward is that she readily admits that sharing her story is not easy – and yet, she shares.

She reflects on the women who, like Coach Yow, have been willing to live their battle with cancer on center stage of a public arena. These women inspire Jazz. Now Jazz inspires others.

All of their stories are important. Coach Yow’s story, Jazz’s story, the untold stories of millions of women. Our collective ability to come along side each other in the midst of some of the toughest events in life come through the stories of survival.

By profession, Jazz is a basketball coach. In reality, she coaches more than basketball. She is a life coach for 18-22 year old women – women who, like Jazz, most likely have no expectation of ever coming face to face with cancer. Women who have a 1 in 3 chance of getting some form of cancer during the course of their lifetimes. Women who need to hear stories like that of Jazz Perazic.

It was hard for Jazz to tell her story. Yet, it is her story that will save other lives. When someone tells you they took a gamble with their own life, you listen. You listen because you are shocked, you listen because you know chances are, you would do the same.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

Shining Through…

Her voice is strong. It is the sort of strong that comes from a deep trust, a trust that is grounded in faith.

But it is not just her voice that is strong. When she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in May 2017, Brenda Yates had the myriad of emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis, but she also knew she would beat cancer.

There are very few things on earth worse than cancer, but the loss of a child has to be the very worst that life has to offer. Brenda lost her beautiful daughter several years ago. Having lived through the greatest of losses, she knew her battle with cancer could not possibly inflict worse pain.

In spite of it all, everything about Brenda shines. She remains joyful amid life’s very greatest adversities.  Her joy is a choice, and Brenda chooses it each day.

It is January 2018 and Brenda Yates is still in the trenches with cancer treatments still ahead. The nightmare that started 9 months ago with a breast cancer diagnosis is not over yet, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Better yet, there is hope throughout the journey.

She started treatment in June. In her situation, many women elect to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy first, followed with rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. However, on the advice of her medical oncologist, Dr. Mark Graham (who was also Coach Yow’s oncologist), Brenda elected to have the chemo first, in hopes of delivering a knockout blow to cancer.

The first round was the hardest. Maybe it was the anxiety that comes with not knowing what to expect, or wondering how much worse things would get before life started to get better, or the shock of coming face to face with the full impact of chemotherapy – all harsh realities of cancer.

Hearing Brenda tell her story, her mentality resembles that of Coach Yow. Around the time of her first treatments, Brenda decided to respond to pain by rejoicing and giving thanks. Immediately, things improved – a burden was lifted. Sometimes the pain of cancer is not treated as much by the medicine as it is by the spirit.

Dr. Graham had advised her to continue living as normally as possible saying, “we don’t live to treat, we treat to live.”  The advice was good, actually it was great. But carrying it out would fall to Brenda. It would be her choice to live and live rejoicing.

She committed to walk each day, something she describes as an effort to “take some control” and do something to build health. Day by day, there was the boost of accomplishment and, even if only for a fleeting time, a moment of control.

On October 30, she finished chemotherapy. With step one complete, her mastectomy was scheduled for December 1. When the pathology report came back, there was reason to celebrate. There was no trace of cancer remaining in the 5-centimeter tumor bed. In fact, there was no trace of cancer anywhere. It was a complete result.

Dr. Graham called her results his “Christmas present.” Oncologists are studying her case to figure out the specific causes of such tremendous success, hoping to duplicate it many times over. These are the wins that cancer research hopes to give — the wins that make funding for research critical. These are the lives that are changed, the lives that are saved.

Brenda still has 25 rounds of radiation and her reconstructive surgery to come, but there is great reason to be hopeful. Hopeful that this chapter is almost over for Brenda. Hopeful that the chapter is almost finished for ALL cancer – a day when we will all rejoice.

Back to Normal

We know that life changes and “normal” is lost when the word “cancer” is introduced. Afterall, hearing about cancer and knowing cancer personally are two totally different matters.

Maybe one of the worst parts about knowing cancer is not knowing when things will become normal again.

Danielle O’Banion is a coach. She is also a cancer survivor.  She is thankful to be a survivor, very thankful– she realizes this is a team she is very blessed to be a part of.

For Danielle, “normal” is day after day of helping young women be the best they can be. Normal is airports and hotels, rental cars and layovers, a quick stop at Starbucks before spending a day in a gym, looking for the next top recruit.  Normal is practice plans and game film. Normal is walking into a gym and competing.

But cancer was a new and unknown opponent—not normal.

Danielle had been dealing with a series of women’s health issues which led her OB-GYN to recommend at least a partial hysterectomy – but it was October – basketball season was starting, and the demands of college basketball would not align with major surgery.

A few restless nights later, perhaps divine providence, Danielle reconsidered. She gave the OB-GYN a 4-day window in which she could be available for surgery, thinking that perhaps, scheduling would preclude her from having the surgery until after the season—unless it was meant to be.  If the schedule did not work, surgery would have to wait. Miraculously, the surgeon was available.

When her labs came back, it was clear things were not normal. Further testing revealed Danielle had stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Normal. When would she see normal again? Would normal ever be the same?

As the cancer treatment to save her life and basketball season which was her life intertwined, it became apparent that there would be, at least that season, a new normal.

Back injections on one day, flying to the next game the following day. Six rounds of chemotherapy and conference play. An outpouring of support from a nation of coaches. Well wishers cheering her on at every gym on the schedule. This was the new normal.

Ultimately, normal is a luxury most of us take for granted. The opportunity to readily “get back to normal” is something we don’t realize we should cherish.

Danielle is now cancer free and basketball season is here once again. Her days are likely as close to normal as they have been since she was diagnosed in 2014.  As a coach, each win is celebrated. This win must be the biggest. Beating cancer and getting back to normal.  It is the win all of us are going for – the ultimate win.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

A Lot to Live For…

Michelle Fladung has a three-year-old granddaughter. She looks forward to watching her go to her first day of kindergarten. She looks forward to a lot of future milestones for her granddaughter – milestones she plans to see in person. As Michelle says, “I have a lot to live for.”

“A lot to live for” is a commonly used phrase in our culture. Yet, it doesn’t seem overused. But then again, could this exact phrase ever actually be overused?

Overused or not, when this phrase comes out of the mouth of a stage 4 ovarian cancer survivor, it comes out in bold, italicized, underlined font. It is strong.

2014 was not a good year for Michelle Fladung. She lost her mother on October 9, 2014, had surgery to repair a hernia on October 13, 2014 and, in the process of repairing the hernia, doctors discovered she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. Yet, in retrospect, she does make note of two huge blessings:

  • Michelle is extremely thankful that her beloved mother never knew that she had cancer.
  • Had it not been for the hernia, the ovarian cancer discovery would likely have been made way too late.

They say ovarian cancer is the “silent killer.” It presents very few detectable symptoms until, too often, it is too late.  For Michelle, it was almost too late. Her type of ovarian cancer has a 17% 5-year survival rate. She is in year 4. She feels better than she has at any time over the past 3 years.  She is strong.

Michelle attributes her current good health to cancer research. Over the past three years, she has been a part of two clinical trials, leading to this most recent round of treatment – a cutting edge drug that is providing a quality of life Michelle hasn’t experienced since 2014.  In fact, it is so cutting edge, Michelle is the first patient at Duke Cancer Center to receive this treatment outside of a clinical trial.

The term “clinical trial” sounds institutionalized, but in real life, the words “clinical trial” translate into “hope.”

Lots of hope.

Hope for the future, a better future. Hope for more days and time to make memories with a granddaughter who will one day understand the strength of her grandmother.

As thanksgiving approaches, we think about all the things we are thankful for. It turns out very few of them are “things.” Most of them are people. Some of them are ideals. We are thankful for the hope that research can provide, but most of all, we are thankful for the people that research can give us more time to enjoy, people like Michelle.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

Quality of Life…

Pam and Richard Sykes value quality of life. For four decades of young men, they were quality of life.

We talk a lot about the importance of raising money for cancer research. Yes, it is very important. In fact, it is critical to being able to eventually eliminate cancer. Without money for research, cancer will continue to hold our hearts in its grip.

While our focus continues to be finding a cure, the advancements that are being made are helping limit the negative side effects of treatments, enhancing quality of life.

Pam Sykes was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in the fall of 2010. The original diagnosis was nothing but positive, the second opinion agreed. It was an imaginably difficult time, but the Sykes’ were thankful it was not any worse.

On January 4, 2011, Pam went in for surgery.  The post-surgical report revealed that in the weeks since her diagnosis, her cancer had advanced. What had been stage 1 breast cancer in November, was now stage 3 in January. Lymph nodes were involved, chemotherapy would be necessary. The Sykes’ were devastated.

Quality of life. It seems simple, but ultimately it embodies every ideal we all have.

Pam reflects on the time after her first round of chemo. She truly felt like she might die. She may have even questioned whether or not taking the treatment would be worth it – but if she had doubts, her family did not. They supported her and encouraged her to persevere.

And persevere she did.

Quality of life can mean lot of things. It can mean life free of cancer. It can mean facing cancer and enduring fewer negative side effects along the way.

But there is more to life than the physical. Often times it is the mental, emotional, and spiritual boosts that we receive that really give us true quality of life.

Coach Yow liked to say, “First you receive, then you give.” When it comes to “boosts,” Pam has given and received.

For 46 years, Richard Sykes led NC State’s men’s golf team. Over that time, the Sykes opened their home and their hearts to these players, creating a family for young men to be a part of, many of whom were hundreds, if not thousands of miles from home. She created a home for them. She gave them the boost.

Since the time of her diagnosis, Pam has participated in numerous Play4Kay events at NC State – as a survivor being honored at women’s basketball’s annual Play4Kay game, doing the coin toss for the Kay Yow Spring Game for Wolfpack football, even throwing out the first pitch to open softball season one year. Pam remembers the emotion of each of those events – the boost she received.

The amazing part is that as we honor the survivors among us, we give and we receive. We give our support, the idea that no battle is fought alone. They give us hope that one day there will be less side effects, less cancer, more quality of life. We all get a boost.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

The Next Day…

Life is so often a story of contrasting moments. Contrasting emotions. The highs in stark contrast to the lows.

When it comes to cancer, each day can be its own microcosm of the full emotional spectrum. Some days start with challenges; all days require hope. Jeanne Frazer has experienced the cancer rollercoaster in full force.

Jeanne is a horse lover, business owner and survivor – a type 1 diabetic, stage 4 lymphoma survivor, to be more specific.

Eight years ago, yes 8 years, Jeanne was diagnosed with lymphoma after a biopsy revealed that numerous lumps were indeed cancerous. For Jeanne, whose father and grandfather both died of cancer, it was a devastating shock. The sort of shock that can leave even the most optimistic of people in a state of fear.

The news came around Thanksgiving. Jeanne pushed to start treatment prior to Christmas. With the first round of treatments scheduled, Jeanne turned her focus to things that seemed more controllable. As she said, “she got her affairs in order.” She spent more time with family and held onto the healing power of being at the barn with horses and friends.

As a diabetic, a critical aspect of her health hinged on managing the life-threatening impact of the steroids and chemotherapy on her blood sugar.  Her normally upbeat endocrinologist warned, “call me when you are in the hospital…and you will be in the hospital.”  This statement alone was cause for alarm.

From alarm and dread to hope and joy.

When she arrived for her first treatment, Jeanne received incredible news that, just the day before, a German medical team had a breakthrough in research, yielding a drug combination that was far less toxic, yet even more effective – a drug that would alter the course of her treatment plan.

Suddenly, hope. Great hope.

Contrasting moments. One moment, she had been a diabetic in stage 4 cancer with a very difficult family history to overcome. In the next moment, she learned she would be the beneficiary of cutting-edge research, research that she credits with making her treatment much easier and keeping her out of the hospital, maybe even saving her life.

Research has now given Jeanne 8 years cancer free. Time to spend with family, friends and horses!

There are times we all question the progress we are making in the global fight against cancer. Jeanne is living proof that cancer research is making a difference. Cancer research gave Jeanne hope. Cancer research gave her life – the ultimate gift.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

Unedited…

It might seem like a simple thing. Perhaps even an easy thing. When you break it down, it is not simple or easy, but it is so important.

“Please don’t edit for me.”

That was Kathy Brawn’s biggest request of her group of 18-22-year-old soccer players at Colgate University. Kathy is a coach. Her sport is life. Her team, her staff—they are family.

Maybe it is the way of coaches – the ability to set a goal, engineer a plan, and stay focused on the end result. Maybe, in this case, it was a survival instinct kicking into overdrive. Whatever the case, when Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer, she pushed worry aside and focused on her treatments and the goal—beating cancer.

But there was one concern.  Her team.

How would they respond? It wasn’t a question of how they would perform on the field, the question was bigger.  How would their coach’s battle with cancer impact their young lives? As it turns out, many of them were already too familiar with cancer. Now this.

Thus, her request, “Please don’t edit for me.”

Kathy met with her team, stating her request. She provided the example that 3 days prior, a player had asked her to write a recommendation. She happily wrote the letter. She explained that she hoped that 3 days later, after the news of her cancer, her players would still make such requests. After all, she had cancer when she wrote the first letter. Why wouldn’t she write another, and another?

Bottom line, she did not want life to change. Even more importantly, she did not want the people she loved the most to change. She wanted to be given the option to be normal. If she had to take things a bit slower, that would be her decision.

It is a simple request, but one alludes so many of the “helpful.” It seems many survivors, in the midst of an uncertain journey, desire normalcy. For those eager to provide support, the tendency is to edit.

Editing is the problem with cancer. Too often, it is the editor of lives – making unwelcome, uninvited changes.  Usually right when the story was getting good.

Kathy, like Coach Yow, considers herself fortunate to have been able to continue coaching, continue living a full life, even in the midst of adversity. Her family, friends, neighbors, her staff, Alyssa Manoogian (Colgate ’13) and Jenna Gibney (Colgate ’15) provided the best kind of support. The unedited, unabridged kind that lets the author make decisions.

Their support was the variable that allowed Kathy to continue her journey, not deviating from the life she loved.

Cancer does change us. It changes all of us — the person with the cancer and the loved ones who want so desperately to help.  We continue to rally in support of one another until the time when we can celebrate that cancer has officially been edited out of our story.

 

To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

Survivor Strong…

Sometimes the hardest thing about being strong, is being weak. That was the case for Rachelle Jones.

Rachelle is one of those strong people. She defines herself in many ways. Christian. Mother of two. Collegiate women’s basketball official. Former athlete. Picture of health. Super woman.

Cancer survivor.

But never weak. Always strong.

When she found the lump, she immediately contacted her doctor. She had never been sick in her life, but finding a lump has a way of injecting a harsh dose of equal measures panic and urgency into any situation.

In what surely felt like an out of body experience, Rachelle was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer and began treatment. Life had changed.

That might be one of the most unexpected aspects of cancer—just how life changing it is.

But for Rachelle, it was not her own life that she was scared would change. It was the lives of her children—how would this affect her high school-aged son and daughter? She had always been the one with the answers. She had always been the one they could count on to be strong.

Seeing a person who has always given strength to others show any small sign of weakness, can be a rattling experience—especially when that person is your mom and the cause of the “weakness” is cancer. Rachelle didn’t want her children to have such an experience.  She prayed throughout her treatment that God would give her the strength to maintain a sense of normalcy for her son and daughter.

A year later, with the love and support of her devoted family and friends, Rachelle returned to collegiate basketball. Life was starting to return, not to normal, but the new normal. Rachelle is healthy, she is once again physically strong, but she is forever changed.

In this way, change was good. In this way, Rachelle is stronger than ever before. She came through a situation bigger than her own physical strength and she came through it stronger—mentally stronger, spiritually stronger.

That there are people who have enough strength to overcome and in doing so give us strength, is amazing.

Coach Yow was a giver of strength. It seemed she always had more than enough to go around.

The same is true of Rachelle.

Their greatest gift is that in the face of great adversity, they show us how to be strong, even when they feel weak.

 

To Donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.