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.