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.

A Grateful Heart…

Scared. Grieving. Angry. Shocked. All powerful emotions. Emotions that naturally accompany a cancer diagnosis.

Beautiful. Lovely. Grateful. Blessed. Words in stark contrast to the raw emotions created by cancer, and yet words that also seem to be the heartbeat of a survivor.

As Betsy Campbell talks about her recent battle with breast cancer, it is apparent that she has been through the stages of grief, but the blessing of early detection, the blessing of another day dictates a spirit of intense gratitude. Gratitude for the unwavering support, encouragement, and love of friends, family, and women she barely knew when she was diagnosed—women who have become family as a result of their shared battle.

There is no small battle when the opponent is cancer. While each diagnosis is different, the shock wave of a diagnosis has undeniable repercussions.  Betsy is now in a position to look back at all of the blessings that have transpired over the course of the months since her cancer was detected — The 3D mammogram that caught her cancer in the earliest stage; her geographical location, allowing her to take advantage of some of the top medical facilities in the country; a loving and supportive husband; an intimacy with other women who understand the challenges of facing cancer.

For Betsy, the greatest challenge is now heightened, but it is a challenge we can all relate to – the need to live every day, not in fear of the future, but with gratitude for the present.

Suddenly all of Coach Yow’s life lessons come to the forefront:

“Never let the urgent get in the way of the important.”

“Give and pray for others.  Count your blessings.”

“Live one moment at a time.”

“Be thankful every day.”

We know cancer is a formidable opponent—a powerful enemy. But, maybe the power of cancer is not in the cancer itself, but in the spirit of survivors. The spirit of Betsy, of Coach Yow. The spirit of grateful hearts.


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