In All Things…

Coach Kay Yow was a visionary. She was the sort of person who had the ability to look into the future and see not just what could be possible, but what would be needed.

As a person of deep faith, she knew the importance of giving thanks “in all things,” even cancer. She was thankful that her visibility allowed her to use her cancer for a great purpose. To do those things she loved to do — give, serve, encourage.

When Coach Yow started the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, almost ten years ago, one of her biggest aspirations for the Fund was that it would be a source of encouragement and hope for other survivors. For all survivors.

Coach Yow not only provided encouragement and hope by her example of a life well lived, but also in very practical ways.  By starting the Fund to insure that life saving and life extending research continues.

Frances Strickland lives by the same credo. She embodies Coach Yow’s vision. Like Coach Yow, Frances gives. She serves. She encourages.

For too many of us, cancer hits much too close to home. For Frances, cancer hit home repeatedly. Four years, four cancer diagnoses. Her sister, her brother, her mother. . .and, in year four, Frances. Invasive carcinoma. Stage three breast cancer.

Frances tells that getting the correct diagnosis was not easy. But then again, has anything about cancer ever been easy?

She felt a small lump, nothing that seemed significant. Nothing that appeared too significant on a precautionary mammogram and ultrasound. However, because of her family history, she also had a biopsy, which detected a cancer 7.5 inches in diameter. Since her cancer started in a lactation duct and “spider webbed” out from there, the usual screenings did not catch it.

That it was caught at all is amazing. That it was caught in time is miraculous.

What do you do when you find yourself staring in the face of great adversity?

Frances went to her core, to her faith. For Frances, her faith is a sustaining force. An unwavering power. And, again, faith teaches to give thanks “in all things.”  A thankful heart led Frances to find purpose in all things, even the hardest of things.

Like Coach Yow, Frances found purpose in cancer:

  • Sharing her courage — the kind of courage that only deep faith can provide; the kind of courage that knows that healing will eventually come; the kind that instills courage in others.
  • Making provision for the future needs of others by being the inspiration for and driving force of fundraising events that have raised more than $50,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund over the past few years. Money that will go to support the fight against ALL women’s cancers. Giving hope and encouragement to those who need it most.

Frances uses her story to help others face their own. She is cancer free now. It still isn’t easy. Some of her family was less fortunate. But, Frances’ message is one of courage. In living a life of courageous conviction and action, Frances gives hope to others. Enough hope to find purpose. Enough purpose to give hope.

 

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

30 Years Later…

This weekend marks 30 years since Kay Yow’s initial cancer diagnosis. While Coach Yow is no longer here, she is always with us. Her story lives on. She continues to give.

On August 5, 1987, Coach Yow was diagnosed with breast cancer. For those who are not as familiar with Coach Yow’s story, a quick Wikipedia search would tell you that she passed away on January 24, 2009, after a 22-year journey with breast cancer. But there is more. Much more.

The important thing about Coach Yow’s story is not the final day, but each and every one of the 7,843 days in between August 1987 and January 2009. Days Coach Yow used to make a difference in the lives of her players. Days she used to make a difference in the sport of women’s basketball. Days she used to make a difference in the lives of future generations of women who would eventually find themselves in a fight against cancer.

She used these days to give.

In a time when many are questioning the effectiveness of cancer research, Coach Yow’s last 7,843 days on Earth are a testament to how far we have come.

Cancer research gave Coach Yow time. We wish it had given her more time, but we are thankful that it gave her enough time.

Enough time to lead the United States to an Olympic Gold medal in 1988. 421 days after her initial diagnosis.

Enough time to lead NC State to the 1998 Women’s Final Four – 3,889 days after her initial diagnosis.

Enough time have a career worthy of induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame – 5,534 days after her initial diagnosis.

Enough time to be awarded the 2007 ESPY, the JimmyV Award for Perseverance — 7,280 days after her initial diagnosis.

And 7,426 days after that fateful day in 1987, Kay Yow started the Kay Yow Cancer Fund – her final gift to us all. A gift that will continue to give strength and hope to others.

For Coach Yow, every day mattered. A lot of living took place after August 5, 1987.  These days represented an opportunity to give. An opportunity to make a contribution. An opportunity to change lives.

It has now been 10, 960 days since Coach Yow learned she had breast cancer. All of those days matter. All of those days are leading to better days. Days when cancer may not have such a hold over us.

We miss Coach Yow, but we give thanks for all the days that cancer research gave her. Days she gave us.

 

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

Ripple Effects

December 2007 was the rock thrown in the still lake. It was the beginning of the ripple effect.

For those who are linear thinkers, it might seem strange to say that December 2007 was a starting point in two lives. Especially these two lives. Two lives that had already given almost a century of service to thousands of people. For Kay Yow and Annette Lynch, December 2007 was not just a starting point, it was, in many ways, the starting point.

To say that Annette Lynch’s life has been purpose driven is to say the very least. Her path through life has been a series of professional positions, any one of which could be considered a calling, all of them centering around one word—giving. As a coach, giving to her players. As a director at the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators (NACWAA), giving to an entire profession. Giving through a storied career in Special Olympics that started with a successful job interview with Eunice Kennedy Shriver and is still going strong.

Purpose driven.

Yet even for the most ambitious of souls, coming face to face with the realities of a cancer diagnosis would heighten the senses and double down on the resolve to find purpose.

Purpose in life. Purpose in cancer. Purpose in living beyond cancer.

In December 2007, Coach Kay Yow finalized plans to officially launch the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Annette Lynch finished 33 rounds of radiation. It was a starting point for living beyond cancer. The point of purpose.

For Kay Yow, the Fund became her purpose, an avenue to give back. To give in favor of life extending research. To give to the underserved. To give future generations of women the chance to find their purpose. To give hope.

With Annette, late 2007 was the start of a conscious decision to live with purpose. Each day would be deliberate. Each encounter with a young professional or a Special Olympics athlete, the chance to mentor.  The chance to give.

Annette says, “We are measured by doing what we can with what we have, not what we don’t have.”

So true.

Cancer or no cancer, none of us know how many days we have left. The challenge is not in knowing the number of days we have left. The challenge is in taking each day and maximizing the number of giving opportunities. How much can we give? How much of an impact will we have?

Money raised for cancer. Athletes given the chance to excel. Lives bettered. Lives changed.

These are the ripple effects from survivors like Kaye and Annette, casting their stones into the still waters … the purpose of survival … and making a tremendous difference in the lives of others … of giving hope.

 

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

Giving Hope…

Christmas. New Year’s. Birthdays. All special days — days that should fill us with the best emotions life has to offer. Emotions that cannot be bought or quantified. Emotions as essential to us as life itself – peace, joy, and hope—especially hope.

For Andrea Eason, there was a time when the peace of Christmas was taken by the anxiety of test results. The celebration of New Year’s was taken by the raw emotion of a breast cancer diagnosis. The joy of another birthday was taken by an upcoming mastectomy.

Cancer has taken too much. Cancer often takes our sense of peace, our joy. But through the very worst, hope prevails. Hope is stronger than cancer. Even when cancer takes, hope continues to give.

Knowing Andrea is to receive the gift of hope.

In Andrea, other women see a fighter. Someone who refused to think the worst, but chose to live at her best. Someone who battled breast cancer as a single mother while balancing her career as a partner in her accounting firm. Andrea encourages women to do their own research, investigate their best options, and make decisions based on what is best for them. She is someone who handles the uncertainties of life, particularly life with cancer, with grace and courage.

Coach Yow gave us a similar example, fighting cancer with the shield of hope and a sword of grace. She was someone who refused to forfeit the joys of life, even in the most difficult of times, to the unrelenting power of cancer.

In these women we see all that is possible. We see the power of the human spirit and the best that exists in each of us. Watching these incredible women not just survive, but live — this gives us strength, this gives us hope.

And we know, hope cannot be taken. Hope can only be given.

Of course, we know that each diagnosis is different. Each journey contains its own challenges, presents its own battles. Each story starts and ends in a slightly different place. But each journey has the opportunity to generate hope. The kind of hope that can sustain others through the extremes of life. Andrea’s life with cancer generates hope. Long-lasting hope.

There are over 15 million people in the United States living with cancer today. They give us hope. They give each other hope.

Andrea Eason does not believe that her journey with cancer is particularly remarkable. But it is. Andrea’s journey gives hope to others. And giving hope is beyond remarkable – it is extraordinary.

 

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

Living in the Moment…

These are the moments you live for. The moments that Kodak never had enough film to capture. The moments you dream of when you are sleeping and envision when you are awake.

Terry Crawley’s first grandchild turns a month old today. She and her husband, Oliver, light up when they talk about their grandson. To say these are great times is an understatement. To say they are grateful is also an understatement.

They are more aware than most that this precious time was not guaranteed.

Terry was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. She had discomfort in her breast. A tenderness that had not been there before. Wanting to be proactive, she had a mammogram. Nothing. The tenderness persisted and so did Terry. Another mammogram. Nothing. But something was wrong. Finally, at Terry’s request, an ultrasound revealed that the previous “nothing” was indeed something. Cancer.

Radiation wasn’t an option because the location of the cancer was so close to Terry’s heart—too close. But, then that is the way with cancer. It always strikes too close to the heart.

So, she had four rounds of chemotherapy, sent her youngest child off to his Freshman year of college, and then had a mastectomy.

Cancer was behind her.

With cancer in the rearview mirror, Terry continued living. Watching her children grow into adults. Life moved on.  Graduations, weddings, the highs and lows of life continued.

Almost 10 years to the day of her first diagnosis, Terry felt that same familiar and unsettling tenderness, this time in her other breast. Stage 2, triple negative breast cancer, with lymph node involvement. Somehow the second breast cancer diagnosis seemed to hit harder than the first. Terry and her oncologist, Dr. Mark Graham, worked to put a “game plan” together. Cancer isn’t a game, but having a plan of attack makes the course seem more manageable.

Terry remembers watching Coach Yow, inspired by her ability to continue living, coaching her team, while engaging in a battle against, what Coach Yow herself referred to as, the “toughest foe of all—cancer.”

But, like Coach Yow, Terry continued to live. One day at a time. Each milestone. Each memory. Each moment—giving hope to others who witnessed her battle.

Giving hope. What a tough thing to do. How does one person give hope to another? It seems the answer is somewhere in the fabric of continuing.

Continuing to coach. Continuing to live. Continuing for the chance to impact others. Continuing for the chance to meet grandchildren.
To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

Using Cancer…

Some of the things Cindy Alexander says belong on a shirt or a poster. Better yet, they belong in a song.

Cindy is an artist. She uses her music to raise money for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund and awareness for ALL women’s cancers. She is on tour this summer and donating the proceeds to the Fund. But it is bigger than that. Way bigger.

Cindy is the mother of two 8 year old children. She is teaching them how to use their passions for a cause. She is teaching them how to give. Actually, she is teaching a lot of people how to give.

Her journey with cancer started when her kids were young. They were too young for a lot of things. Too young to understand cancer.

Then again, are any of us “old enough” to understand cancer?

In talking with Cindy, it becomes apparent that her intention is not at all to understand cancer. It is to use cancer. And she is.

She is using cancer as a platform to give back. She is using cancer to teach others how to do the same.

She is using cancer as a reason not simply to exist, but to live and to thrive.

She is using cancer as a reminder of her own mortality. Not in a scary way, but in a way of immense gratitude. Gratitude for each day, each moment.

She is using cancer to show her kids that making a life is more important than making a living.

One day her kids will understand that when they were 4 years old, their mom faced a scary opponent. They will understand why their mom goes for check-ups less and less frequently. They will understand why each of those follow-up scans ignites fear. But they will understand that their mom conquers fear.

Cindy Alexander never met Coach Yow. She wishes she had. She says she understands from what she reads that Coach Yow had “giving energy.”

Yes. Yes, she did.

The giving energy is something Cindy recognizes, because, she too, has it. If cancer is hard to understand, giving is not. The great thing about the gifts that Cindy and Coach Yow have given is that they can never be taken away. They will always remain.

The unfortunate reality that we all understand is that cancer takes too much away from us. But, the victory is in those people, like Coach Yow and Cindy, who have “giving energy.” They give us hope and hope cannot be taken away.
To donate to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

For more information on Cindy Alexander or to check out upcoming tour dates, click here.

Photo credit Don Adkins.

 

 

Hope for the Future…

Julie Skinner is a member of two sororities.  She volunteered for one. She was drafted into the other. She is thankful to be in both.

She is a former Kay Yow Camp counselor (anyone who ever worked or attended Kay Yow Camp knows that is a sorority). She is also a cancer survivor – the most courageous of sororities.

Thirty years ago this summer, Julie worked her first of two summers of Kay Yow Camp. One, surely hot, Tuesday night in Reynolds Coliseum, Coach Yow approached Julie and asked her if she would lead the next morning’s devotion. However big or small the moment seemed then, certainly Julie could never have known the eventual significance.

Julie remembers that she picked the verse from Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” as the focal point of her lesson.

First the irony.

Looking back thirty years later, the fact that Julie led a devotion assuring listeners of God’s gentle sovereignty regarding future events, perhaps no more than 6 Wednesdays before the Wednesday in August 1987 when Coach Yow was first diagnosed, seems so amazingly random. And yet, we know, nothing about this story is random.

Now the parallels.

The future. Coach Yow was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 5, 1987. 23 years later, Julie began her journey with breast cancer. Coach Yow would never know that their futures held this common bond. Yet, each woman battled their common opponent with grace, courage, and strength.

The hope. Talking with Julie, it is apparent that her life with cancer has been lived in a similar vein as Coach Yow’s. Julie is a coach for multiple club basketball teams. Throughout her battle, she continued to coach, giving hope to the kids and their families that witnessed her strength and courage in a daily fight for her life. At the same time, Julie says nothing gave her encouragement quite like that of her players. Sounds familiar.

Maybe it was the plan along. His plan — to give Coach Yow and Julie a purpose, in their players, that they were so passionate about that being in the presence of their game and their people would give them both strength and hope on the darkest of days. That alone is an encouraging thought.

The even more inspiring idea is the thought that His plan was to give hope to many, many more through the battle that Coach Yow and Julie both fought. In this way, the future is full of hope and the battle is already won.

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

A Lifetime Ago…

In 1991 the Dow Jones Industrial average topped 3,000 for the first time, Lebron James was 7, and the price for a dozen eggs was 85 cents.

In 1991, Carla Stoddard (front row, 4th from left) was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma, called Burkitt.  The odds were not in her favor. She was given a 25% chance of survival. If she opted to have an experimental bone marrow transplant, her odds improved to 50/50. And to make matters worse, it was 1991 and our understanding of various forms of cancer and how to treat them had not yet benefited from millions of dollars, advancing research.

Advancing Research. If you were wondering how much difference 25 years, millions of dollars, and the greatest minds on the planet have made, the recommended treatment for Burkitt Lymphoma is no longer a bone marrow transplant and the survival rate in adults has jumped from 25% to 70-80%. This is the undeniable value of cancer research.

Carla’s memory of the day she was diagnosed is somewhat vague. But, after all, it was a lifetime ago. A lifetime ago.

Having very few good options, Carla opted for the experimental bone marrow procedure, which very likely saved her life. She was uplifted throughout her battle by the love of family and friends. After multiple weeks in isolation, she was released to go home. The battle behind her, she continued to live.

On September 4, 2017, it will have been 25 years since the bone marrow transplant that saved her life. For Carla, who is an educator at North Carolina Central University, that means another quarter of a century of teaching students, impacting lives, changing futures. Thousands of futures.

While Coach Yow would be the very first to say that Carla’s story is just that—Carla’s story, it is hard to tell Carla’s story without drawing a very significant parallel to Coach Yow. After all, Carla knew Coach Yow before.

Before Coach Yow coached the 1988 US Women’s Basketball team to Olympic gold.

Before Coach Yow led the Wolfpack to their first Final Four appearance.

Before she was a Naismith Hall of Fame coach.

Before the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

Before cancer.

Carla and Coach Yow knew each other in a simpler time. Carla was the Athletic Trainer serving the Wolfpack Women prior to Coach Yow’s 1987 diagnosis with breast cancer. By the time Carla was diagnosed in 1991, Coach Yow had beaten cancer—once.

The amazing part of the story for both women is really not that they once beat cancer. It is that, in every way imaginable, they both beat cancer thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times over.

Each individual’s win against cancer has a multiplier—the lives touched after cancer. Lives that will go on to celebrate wins of their own. Hope is magnified by each additional life touched. At this point there have been more lives touched since cancer first appeared on the scene than we can count. But then again, it was a lifetime ago.

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

Warrior Mode

Just after Christmas in 2015, Angela Caraway went into warrior mode. It seems quite likely that this is what most women do when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Angela’s was an aggressive form of colon cancer. It would be a rough year, a year of treatments and uncertainty. Warrior mode was survival mode and survival mode was the only option.

As many women do, Angela put all her feelings on a shelf.  You know the shelf. The shelf where you put all the things you are either too busy, too tired, or too scared to deal with, along with all those things that you just don’t quite know what to do with.  So there they sit, and they wait.

Emotions safely tucked away, Angela arrived for her first treatment on February 24, 2016 wearing a shirt that read “Take One for the Team” and an attitude that masked her fear. Deep down, the shock of finding herself walking into a cancer clinic rocked her usual upbeat spirit.

The year went by. The treatments worked and Angela found herself on the other side of a battle that many do not have the good fortune to win.

On the morning of February 24, 2017, Angela awoke feeling anxious, nervous, and generally uneasy. The timing of these feelings caught her off guard, much as the feeling of walking into the cancer clinic had felt that first day. But why? Why now? Facebook’s famed “time hop” held the answer—this was the first anniversary of that first scary day at the clinic.

For some time after that, Angela dealt with a sense of worry and depression that seemed out of place considering what she had just come through. After all, she had come through. She had a lot to be thankful for and grateful people are seldom depressed, right?

At a point, it seemed prudent to seek wise counsel. Why would she feel this way? Was this normal? Shouldn’t she be overjoyed? She had beaten cancer. The ultimate win—so why this sense of loss?

It turns out all of those feelings that were stored away when Angela went into warrior mode were not gone, they were just waiting. Angela has been surprised by the emotional difficulties of post-cancer life, but she now understands that it is normal to have those emotions show up when life becomes safe enough to deal with them. This knowledge has removed the needless burden of fear.

Angela’s advice to all cancer survivors is to find community with other survivors; reach out for help; deal with the shelf.

Angela has been a supporter of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund for many years, in many capacities. Most recently, she was a part of the committee that hosted the inaugural Celebration Run/Walk, an event held to honor, encourage, and uplift cancer survivors. She is honored to be a part of Coach Yow’s team—uplifting survivors is something she is called to do.

Some days are easier than others, but Coach Yow’s words “be thankful everyday” resonate with Angela. She is thankful everyday. She is thankful to have overcome cancer. Thankful for the help that alleviated her fears. Thankful to be alive.

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

Winning the Battle

By Mary Gravley

I was diagnosed with non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ in 2011 after a routine mammogram that I nearly missed. I never felt a lump but instinct and timing get the credit for the quick diagnosis. My insurance company sent me a letter stating my annual exam was six months overdue. I made an appointment the following day. A call back and ultra sound found suspicious calcifications deep in my left breast. The radiologist went with his gut and recommended a biopsy instead of waiting the standard 6 months for a follow-up. It was positive. One week later, on October 3rd, a lumpectomy removed all cancer and a large margin of good tissue. Additional treatment included radiation and Tamoxifen. Early detection was critical. Pathology results found an aggressive cancer. Waiting 6 months would have produced a much different outcome and treatment.

At 49, I was the first in my family of 6 women to have breast cancer. My father died of lung cancer one year earlier. I knew I couldn’t fight this alone. It took the love, prayers, encouragement, and support of faith, family, friends, strangers, and doctors. My husband is my rock! As a local sports anchor, Jeff spent a lot of time interviewing Coach Kay Yow during her battle with this disease. The interviews included her oncologist Dr. Mark Graham. When I was diagnosed, it was an easy decision who to talk to next. Dr. Graham met with Jeff and me one evening for 2 hours to discuss my options for surgery and post op. Oncologists are special people as I learned with my father’s own doctor. They spend a great deal of time listening and providing information with their patients. Dr. Graham is no exception. I quickly learned to schedule and allow plenty of time before and after appointments.

Getting the diagnosis was difficult. Giving the news to my 17-year-old daughter could have been a lot harder, but again, timing was in my favor. One month before my diagnosis, Megan began a high school class project raising funds for cancer research. She and two classmates spent 5 months organizing The Peak City Gala of Hope. After completing radiation, I felt comfortable enough to go public. At Megan’s request, I became one of the many cancer survivors for the event and their inspiration. It wasn’t easy at first. Every time I mentioned the C word my lip would quiver and heart beat faster. With love, support and time, I got stronger. As it turned out, Megan and her friends were my inspiration. The gala raised $30,000.

Five years later, I remain cancer free. Each follow-up appointment with the oncologist brings some expected anxiety followed by a sigh of relief. Dr. Graham still spends as much time with me now as he did the first visit. My best advice to others is to follow your gut and trust your instincts. You’ll get lots advice both good and bad. Do what is best for you.

I have found it so encouraging to be around other survivors. When I participate in the Play4Kay game at NC State each February, or the Kay Yow Cancer Fund Celebration Run/Walk, I am uplifted by the connection we share through a common journey.  There is no such thing as “a little bit of cancer.” The diagnosis changed my life, but thanks to the team of support around me, I am winning the battle!

To make a donation to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.