NC State's Yow Loses Fight Against Breast Cancer

By  | 

North Carolina State's Kay Yow, the Hall of Fame women's basketball coach who won more than 700 games while earning fans with her decades-long fight against breast cancer, died on Saturday. She was 66.

Yow, first diagnosed with the disease in 1987, died Saturday
morning at WakeMed Cary Hospital after being admitted there last
week, university spokeswoman Annabelle Myers said.

"Everyone who had the privilege of knowing Kay Yow has a heavy
heart today," N.C. State athletics director Lee Fowler said in a
statement. "She faced every opponent, whether on the basketball
court of in a hospital room, with dignity and grace. She will be
greatly missed."

The Wolfpack's game at Wake Forest on Monday was postponed to
Feb. 10. Its next game will be Thursday at home against Boston
College. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

Yow had a record of 737-344 in 38 years - 34 years with the
Wolfpack - in a career filled with countless milestones. She
coached the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal in 1988, won four
Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships, earned 20 NCAA
tournament bids and reached the Final Four in 1998.

She also was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2002,
while the school dedicated "Kay Yow Court" in Reynolds Coliseum
in 2007.

But for many fans, Yow was best defined by her unwavering
resolve while fighting cancer, from raising awareness and money for
research to staying with her team through the debilitating effects
of the disease and chemotherapy treatments.

She served on the board of the V Foundation for Cancer Research,
which was founded by ESPN and her friend and colleague, former N.C.
State men's coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.

"Kay taught us all to live life with passion and to never give
up," said fellow board member George Bodenheimer, president of
ESPN and ABC Sports. He said the network would remain committed to
a research fund established in Yow's name.

"She's just been a great friend to so many people; obviously
left her footprints all over the place with the kids she has taught
and molded," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt told ESPN. "And she is a
woman that had fought such a hard fight, but it was always about
everyone else, never about Kay."

At Duke - one of N.C. State's closest ACC rivals - there was a
moment of silence to honor Yow before the men's basketball game
against Maryland on Saturday.

In her final months, Yow was on hormonal therapy as the cancer
spread to her liver and bone. But she never flinched or complained,
relying on her faith as the disease progressed. She commonly noted
there were other patients with "harder battles than I'm fighting"
and said it was inspiring for her to stay with her team.

"We're all faced with a lot of tough issues that we're dealing
with," she said in a 2006 interview. "We know we need to just
come to the court and let that be our catharsis in a way. You can't
bring it on the court with you, but we can all just think of
basketball as an escape for a few hours."

Yow announced earlier this month that she would not return to
the team this season after she missed four games because of what
was described as an extremely low energy level.

The team visited Yow in the hospital before leaving Wednesday
for a game at Miami. Associate head coach Stephanie Glance - who
led the team in Yow's absences - met with the team Saturday morning
to inform them Yow had died, Myers said.

Dr. Mark Graham, Yow's longtime oncologist, remembered how Yow
always took time to talk to other patients when she came in for
treatments in recent years.

"She could have tried to come into the clinic and be completely
anonymous," he said. "She just wanted to be another patient. She
was very open to sharing her experiences with others and being
encouraging to others."

Yow's fight was never more public than when she took a 16-game
leave to focus on her treatments during the 2006-07 season. After
her return, her inspired Wolfpack won 12 of its final 15 games with
wins against highly ranked rivals Duke and North Carolina in a run
that attracted plenty of fans wearing pink - the color of
breast-cancer awareness. Her players also wore pink shoelaces.

Yow always found ways to keep coaching even as she fought the
disease. She spent most of games during that emotional 2007 run
sitting on the bench while current interim coach Stephanie Glance
stood to shout instructions at players or help a weakened Yow to
her feet.

"She's the Iron Woman, with the Lord's help," Glance said.

Born March 14, 1942, Sandra Kay Yow originally took up coaching
to secure a job teaching high school English at Allen Jay High
School in High Point in the 1960s. Her boss, along with the boys'
coach, agreed to help her plan practices and to sit on the bench
with her during games. Midway through the season, Yow was on her

She spent four years there followed by another year in her
hometown at Gibsonville High, compiling a 92-27 record. She moved
on to Elon, going 57-19 in four seasons before being hired at N.C.
State in 1975.

Her original cancer diagnosis came the year before coaching the
United States to the gold in the Seoul Olympics. She had a
mastectomy as part of her treatment, then discovered a lump in
November 2004 close to where cancer was first discovered. She had
surgery that December and started on a regimen of radiation and
daily hormone therapy. Still, the cancer came back again and again.

She missed two games of the 2004-05 season while attending an
eight-day nutritional modification program, which called on her to
eat an organic-food diet free of meat, dairy products and sugar.
She stayed on the diet for eight months, losing 40 pounds by
keeping junk food and Southern favorites like biscuits and gravy
off her menu.

Still, she cheated on her organic diet during home recruiting
visits because she didn't want to offend anyone by passing on a
home-cooked meal.

Over the years, Yow never lost her folksy, easygoing manner and
refused to dwell on her health issues, though they colored
everything she did almost as much as basketball. Ultimately, her
philosophy on both were the same.

"If you start to dwell on the wrong things, it'll take you down
fast," Yow said in '07. "Every morning, I wake up and the first
thing I think of is I'm thankful. I'm thankful for another day."