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.

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.

 

 

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.