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Off court, Yow became public face of cancer fight

Posted January 30, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— Former North Carolina State University basketball coach Kay Yow used her sports celebrity status to reach and teach a group of people far away from the basketball court.

Yow, who died last Saturday after a 22-year battle with breast cancer, devoted time and energy away from the hardwood to bringing awareness to living with cancer and raising money for cancer research.

Pink Yow Jersey Yow raises cancer awareness, research

One of her signature events was the Hoops for Hope basketball game at N.C. State. The annual event, which has been copied by other colleges and high schools, combines a fundraiser with a way to honor those who have survived their battles with cancer.

"Through this (game), they've been able to contribute $25,000 to $50,000 per year to the Komen Foundation," said Yow's oncologist, Dr. Mark Graham.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is dedicated to educating people about cancer and raising money for research.

"I firmly believe that I am a beneficiary of the public awareness and fundraising that Kay Yow brought to breast cancer," said Vicki Powell, an N.C. State graduate who also is a patient of Graham's.

"My cancer was discovered (seven years ago) at the very earliest stage of detection, and so, the two prettiest words in the English language to me are 'in situ,' meaning 'self-contained,'" she said.

Powell said she is grateful for Yow's willingness to fight her private battle with cancer in the public eye.

"She battled the grueling effects of toxic chemotherapy that left her fingernails so loose that sometimes it precluded her from shaking hands with people, with fans. She endured fatigue and pain and nausea, which would have sidelined most us," she said.

Graham said Yow's strong faith and her upbeat personality kept her going through such debilitating episodes.

"She did have a positive attitude. It was not a simplistic attitude, but I really take greatest sustenance from her quote, 'We have no control over some things that happen to us in life, but we have 100 percent control over how we react to them.'

"That, to me, is Kay Yow – 100 percent."

This year's Hoops for Hope game will be on Feb. 15, when N.C. State hosts the University of Virginia at Reynolds Coliseum. Breast cancer survivors are invited to walk onto Kay Yow Court at halftime.

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