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.

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.

Inspired to Continue

The truth is, Coach Kay Yow was inspired by a lot of people. She was grounded in her faith and she saw the very best in everyone she encountered. It was that outlook that enabled her to draw inspiration from literally, thousands of people, many of whom she never met.

And yet, it still seems like a tall task—to inspire the inspiration. Coach Yow was the inspiration for a lot of things. It was her vision that launched the Kay Yow Cancer Fund—her vision that provided the fuel for the Play4Kay movement.

Susan Williams is also an inspiring lady. She is someone who graciously faces the day to day battles and victories of life with optimism and faith. Her battle with cancer started in 2006, but in many ways, many good ways, it continues.

Susan tells her story as all great mothers do—her reference points begin and end with the ages of her children. Her oldest son was a senior in high school. Her younger children, twins, Blair and Chris, were in 8th grade. Susan remembers that all three kids responded in different ways to the news of their mother’s diagnosis. Blair did not say much that evening. She really didn’t say very much for a few weeks, but the signs of a child who was deeply affected were there–A few days later, Susan noticed a breast cancer ribbon on the cover of Blair’s notebook, a pink shoelace in her basketball shoes. Little things –at first.

As the kids dealt with the news, focus shifted to the course of treatment. The diagnosis seemed to be fairly straightforward. A lumpectomy followed by several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation should take care of it. Still, there were decisions to be made. Susan did not want to live in fear of the next mammogram.

Once written, can the word “cancer” ever be erased from a life?

The decision was made to have a double mastectomy. The surgery was a success.

While Susan’s surgery was a success, the battle against cancer is a process. Blair watched her mom’s battle with cancer unfold against the backdrop of Kay Yow, facing her latest recurrence of cancer, on the verge of turning her public battle into a national platform. A platform to serve, to inspire.

Growing up just minutes from NC State’s campus, Blair followed the Wolfpack Women and looked up to their leader, Kay Yow – attending her camps each summer. Now a freshman in high school, with Susan’s surgery behind them, Blair decided to launch a project. She would create a Play4Kay game at Athens Drive High School. She would build it each year. She would train her successor and hand it off. It would continue. She promised Coach Yow. She inspired Coach Yow.

On January 23, 2009, Blair hosted her 2nd annual Play4Kay game at Athens Drive High School. Coach Yow looked forward to watching the media coverage from her hospital room at WakeMed in Raleigh. The next morning, January 24, 2009, Coach Yow passed away after a 22-year battle with cancer.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Blair Williams raised over $12,000 in support of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund during her 4 years in high school. She handed her project off to a teammate and the story continued…

In addition to Blair’s efforts, Susan’s husband, Phil, also got involved. Phil had been supportive of Susan’s battle with breast cancer from day one. In fact, it was Phil who suggested the double mastectomy, to be as proactive with Susan’s health as possible. In the years since, Phil has worked to get the Kay Yow Cancer Fund approved as a beneficiary of Duke Energy’s Employee Giving program.

Susan Williams is an inspiring lady. She inspired Phil. She inspired Blair. Blair inspired Coach Yow. Coach Yow is still inspiring all of us to continue the fight!

To support the continuing battle against cancer, click here.

Writing Her Own Chapter…

It is a recurring theme. But it never gets old.

Jerilyn Hughes wants to help others. She says she is part of a sisterhood. Maybe her story could inspire another woman, perhaps lift her up during a low time.

We met Jerilyn at a women’s basketball recruiting event where she was there to support her daughter, Kenzie. It turns out Kenzie has been a big supporter of her mom, too.

Jerilyn was diagnosed with breast cancer in November after a routine mammogram.  The prognosis was good. It was a small spot on her left breast, caught early, likely to be managed with a lumpectomy and several rounds of radiation. Outlook: Strong.

But, for Jerilyn, it wasn’t just a question of outlook, it was a question of mentality. Who, or what, would write the story of Jerilyn’s life. She knew cancer was just a chapter, but she wanted to write it herself. More to the point, she wanted this chapter to have an ending.

Jerilyn began the process of researching her options. She wanted to have choices and make her own decisions. She decided to be proactive, to deliver the knock out blow to cancer herself. A bilateral mastectomy.

Jerilyn has two daughters. She is using her cancer to teach her daughters. They are very likely learning about science: The ins and outs of a bilateral mastectomy, reconstructive medicine; the difference in the blood supply for skin versus tissue. Beyond the technicalities, even more likely, their Mom is teaching them how to fight.

When the process is finished, Jerilyn will have had 5 surgeries. One of those surgeries revealed that the cancer was not as small as it was once thought to be, it was actually all over her left breast. Thank goodness Jerilyn’s fight against cancer began with a fight for the course of action she wanted.

Action. Not treatment. Treatment implies a reactive approach. Jerilyn is not reactive – neither was Coach Yow. The comparison of two women, two survivors, moves beyond a diagnosis and on to a mentality. A mentality to fight and to win. Coach Yow won her battle against cancer by starting the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Jerilyn will win her battle by helping other women fight and win their own battles.

It is a common thread among survivors: Each wanting to elevate the next, until the day this chapter ends.

 

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

A Story of Hope, A Story of Survival

As is always the case, fate writes a far better story than any of us ever could.

This is a story of a mother, her daughter, and their coach. It is a story of faith and hope, courage and conviction, suffering and…then joy.

When Hanna Halteman visited the campus of North Carolina State University as a junior in high school, she could never have imagined exactly what it would mean to play for Coach Kay Yow. Her mother, JoEllen, prayed for a woman that would be a mentor to her daughter; a woman that she could trust with the next four years of her daughter’s life; a mother figure that would lead Hanna into adulthood. It seems God answered a lot of prayers through Kay Yow. He answered JoEllen’s prayer through Coach Yow’s mentorship of Hanna.  What JoEllen could never have realized is that Kay would become as much her coach as she would Hanna’s.

Hanna has a uniquely remarkable perspective.  She vividly remembers her last visit with Coach Yow. A visit Hanna calls “Her gift to us.”  In that visit a lot of people said a lot of things. Hanna told Coach Yow that she was grateful for the opportunity that she had given her—that she wanted to honor her. To which Coach Yow said, “I know that, Hanna. I know you will.”

Then the team and travel party left Wake Medical where Coach Yow had been for over three weeks and departed for their game in Miami.

That was January 21. On the morning of January 24, Coach Yow passed away.

A lot of Coach Yow’s lessons seemed so big that day. They got even bigger for Hanna when JoEllen was diagnosed several years later with stage 2 cervical cancer.

Both Hanna and JoEllen had noticed that, throughout her battle, Coach Yow seemed to have a sense of peace. This unmistakable calm was always with Coach Yow.  It was her essence. She never seemed to be without it. JoEllen quickly found herself at peace in her own battle. “I kept my sights on God. Watching Coach Yow, I always wondered how she did it — to weather the storm with grace and beauty and strength. Keeping her eyes set on Christ. Coach Yow embodied her faith in God. I never truly understood it until I went through it. I had an incredible role model in Coach Yow. It was like she became my coach too.”

For Hanna and JoEllen, the annual Play4Kay game at NC State is now more personal than ever. Hanna’s role has gone from that of player, supporting her courageous coach, to daughter, supporting her equally courageous mom—in Hanna’s words, “an extension of myself.”  The “sisterhood” of survivors that annually gather at the Play4Kay game became a shining light through difficult days for JoEllen.

This past February, as Hanna and JoEllen prepared to make their way out onto Kay Yow Court for the annual survivor celebration, a fellow survivor came up, beaming. She was so glad to see the mother-daughter team that had been so encouraging to her the year before, during her darkest days. When the time came, all three went out onto the floor, in celebration, just as Coach Yow envisioned—survivors lifting up survivors, daughters celebrating mothers, women facing cancer with grace, courage, and peace – the essence of Coach Yow.

 

If you wish to make a donation to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.