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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sandra Kay Yow, June 22, 2005. Interview G-0244. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Battling breast cancer as a survivor and as an activist

Here, Yow describes her battle with breast cancer, which first began in 1987 and recurred in 2004. Yow explains how she was committed to continue working during her ordeal, while at the same time becoming active in raising awareness of breast cancer.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sandra Kay Yow, June 22, 2005. Interview G-0244. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

One of the things that happened, obviously some years ago, you're known throughout the state as a basketball coach, and around the world obviously as a basketball coach, the Olympics and all the other things you've done, and then you've become very well known for having breast cancer. Could you talk about that a little bit in terms of leadership and being in the public eye on that?
I felt like it was really important for me to step forth and to say what was going on in my life. In August of '87 when my breast cancer was first diagnosed, there was a debate with the sports information department as to what we should release. At that time I was still planning to be the Olympic coach the following year. It was actually just ten months away that we would start training and selecting the team. I felt that it was very important that we come out with the details and the truth because at some point I would be in a press conference and they would pursue everything further if we were vague. I just felt like say[ing] that I have breast cancer and had a mastectomy. Let the doctor talk about it. These were the decisions that were made, and this is what's happening. And at that time people weren't talking about breast cancer as much. I think some people felt uncomfortable, but I really insisted on this. So we did the release, and the most interesting thing is because we did the release and it went on the AP wire across the country, from that point on I received so many letters from churches, from Sunday school classes, from individuals, from Bible study groups, people praying for me, and that was a result of releasing the truth about it. It could have never happened if we had just been vague about what the hospitalization was all about. So specific people knew how to pray, and so I was really blessed by all those prayers and everything. Then I had an opportunity from that point on to speak to many groups about breast cancer because I was open about it, and I shared my experience with all kinds of groups: some support groups for other women. People would call me or write me and ask me to call this person, write this person. I would do that. October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many people want me to speak to this group, speak to that group. We started Race for the Cure in Raleigh, wanted me to be honorary chair for the first three years, American Cancer Society. Just over, and over, and over I have been honorary chair, and I have spoken and have done time after time after time. I have received letter after letter after letter of people who have thanked me for speaking out, and how much it has helped them. They say I've encouraged and motivated them in their own battle just from speeches I've given or from interviews that I've had or whatever. And then this past November, 2004, I had a diagnosis of a recurrence of breast cancer. Now the same thing. People call. People write. I meet people on the street. I just met someone yesterday who stopped me. She just wanted to thank me for being a role model. She's had breast cancer. It's been about a year, and she's open with it, and she's fighting it she says because I inspired her to do it. That makes me feel good, and I'm really glad because I know that people who stay positive and people who do what they can do, and they just stay strong and courageous, they have their best shot. And if I can help people to have that kind of mindset and that kind of attitude and to go on with their life I think they have the best chance. So I'm really glad to be a part of that, and I'll just continue to speak at places about it, to be a part of races that raise money for cancer research. The Jimmy V Foundation [a charitable organization dedicated to finding a cure for cancer], I've served on the board of directors. I've played in every golf tournament that they've had, and I'll just continue to be out there as far as breast cancer is concerned.