Measuring Strength…

There are a lot of pieces of Cheryl Smith’s story that should be told. Pieces that are inspiring and uplifting. Hers is a story of perseverance and determination.

Perseverance. The day she was diagnosed started with a nurse dismissing her golf ball sized lump because of a previously clean mammogram. The day ended with a biopsy. Less than a week later she was diagnosed with bilateral malignant breast cancer. Cheryl’s insistence that day probably saved her life. Had she just gone home, it could have been too late.

Determination. Cheryl continued to work throughout her journey with cancer, which included months of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and six weeks of daily radiation. She was granted flexible hours and work-from-home status through an ADA accommodation, which enabled her to maintain her workflow, and her family’s financial responsibilities. Her colleagues at NC State generously donated hundreds of hours of leave, to keep her paycheck stable.  The reality of her situation was she did not have the luxury of staying home and just healing. She’s the sole support for two college-aged daughters and an elderly mother whose care relied solely on her ability to provide. In addition, if she had to leave her job, she would be unable to afford health insurance. No health insurance, for Cheryl, meant a death sentence.

But the common thread in the patchwork quilt of Cheryl’s story is strength—her strength.

Cheryl Smith is a strong woman. But then, it takes a strong woman to be a 5.10 level rock climber. But Cheryl is not just physically strong, she is mentally strong. She has the kind of strength most of us have a hard time comprehending. She has the kind of strength it takes to go to battle against cancer.

In 2014, the Kay Yow Cancer Fund awarded a $1 million grant to UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The grant funded a research study that focused on the benefits of exercise on women undergoing cancer treatments. Cheryl Smith was a part of that study.

Cheryl talks about the study and the principal investigator, Dr. Hy Muss,  and it is obvious that being a part of it gave her a much needed boost. As she talks about it, one can’t help but think how happy Coach Yow would be to hear about all of this. This is after all, just what she had in mind—giving to others. Giving a boost. Giving hope.

Exercise gave Cheryl a feeling of normal. It lifted her out of the physical and emotional pain of cancer, transforming it to a challenge that she could meet. When treatments were physically debilitating, she allowed herself to rest, and got back to her workout, even if it was only a short walk in her neighborhood.  And she planned her next climb.  Exercise gave her a gateway from cancer back to a world of health. A world that involved a challenge, the thrill of competition, process of setting a goal and the joy of beating it. Kicking cancer to the ground.

The exercise program, like all cancer-related research, was scientific in nature, meaning that the outcomes were intended to be measurable and, most likely, physical. For Cheryl, it is quite likely that the exponential benefits were, for the most part, unquantifiable.

And now we have it. The part of cancer that cannot be quantified. The part of every research study that cannot be measured. The “x” factor that all survivors bring to their journeys– their own courage, perseverance, and strength. The hope that they give others who are facing journeys of their own. This is the part of all survivors that cancer will never beat.

 

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

Facing the Facts…

We all know the numbers. Unfortunately, we are way too familiar with the facts, figures, and statistics that surround cancer.

But on the day you are diagnosed, the numbers fade away. The statistics don’t matter. The percentages are not relevant. Suddenly, the numbers have a face—your face.

Jackie Myers was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer on July 5, 2009. More specifically, July 5, 2009 at 5:15 p.m. She remembers where she was and what she was doing when the doctor called to give her the good news and the bad news.

The bad news was, of course, that she had stage 2 colon cancer.

The good news, according to her doctor, was she had “an 80% chance of being alive in 5 years.”

As Jackie recalls the exchange, she reflects on that moment when the statistics suddenly failed to provide comfort. Rarely do statistics provide comfort.

An 80% chance of being alive in 5 years. Jackie readily admits that her journey with cancer has made her more aware of the magnitude of her blessings, more aware that there are those who are far worse off—but still, 80% failed to seem soothing.

It can be hard for people to connect to something as abstract as cancer research. Maybe it seems like something that lives in a lab.  Maybe it seems like the sort of thing that doesn’t help “real” people.

But on the day you are diagnosed, cancer research suddenly becomes very personal. On that day, every decision about your health for every day moving forward is directly connected to cancer research. Directly connected to the research that has determined your course of treatment, a course of treatment that could save or extend a life—your life.

In Jackie’s case, cancer always seemed far removed. Of course, she knew people who had it. She knew some people who had battled and overcome. She knew others who, despite their equal measure of will, had not been so fortunate. She knew Coach Yow.

Jackie actually played for Coach Yow at Elon and even was a teammate of hers on the Rubi-Otts softball team. She loved Coach Yow and admired how she “fought the fight”.

Even at that, cancer wasn’t personal. How could it ever be truly personal until it is you?

But that is the thing about cancer. It is personal. It is very personal. It affects each of us. Our families, our friends. On the day we come face to face with a cancer diagnosis, no stats or figures can give us true hope.

Hope comes from the thought that the future will exist, and not only exist, but that the future will contain a day better than today.

That is where cancer research comes in—the search for a day better than today. A day when lives will be enhanced and extended far beyond what today’s very best medicine has to offer.

Funding cancer research is one of the most important things we can do, because when we support cancer research, we are not just funding the future, we are funding hope. In this way, we can all give hope.

 

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

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.