On Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002, my mother came to school just before lunch to check me out for the remainder of the day.
Equipped with a black sweater and khaki slacks, she had me go into the bathroom and change out of my maroon and white Jenks Trojans T-shirt and jeans into more appropriate attire.
We went to the parking lot, jumped in the minivan and headed toward downtown Tulsa, Okla.
At 15 years old, I was on my way to my first funeral.
William, the best friend of my best friend, had died just a week prior after a life-long battle with Leukemia.
On the drive to the funeral, all I could think about were the memories of William and me fighting as kids, always trying to one-up the other and prove to Andrew which one of us was cooler. I thought about how he and I never really liked each other, but friends support one another so I wanted to be there for Andrew.
After the funeral concluded, I would never be the same.
You see, I always knew that William had cancer, but until that day it never dawned on me the depth of this disease and what it does to people. I was an ignorant high school freshman who had never known anyone who had died.
As the slideshow celebration of Williamâ€™s life played on the projector screen, I looked over at my mom and started to cry.
But itâ€™s because of that day, Oct. 23, 2002, that I love the Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research more than any other in sports.
Jim Valvano (AKA: Jimmy V) was a college basketball coach who was most well-known during his decade-long stint at North Carolina State, where in 1983 he and the sixth-seeded Wolf Pack upset the top-seeded Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars with an ironic dunk as time expired to win the National Championship game 54-52.
In the summer of 1992, two years after he left coaching, Valvano was diagnosed with cancer which, according to The V Foundationâ€™s website, had metastasized from an unknown origin. He would die on April 28, 1993.
But just less than two months before his passing, Valvano would give a speech at the inaugural ESPY Awards that would start to build mankindâ€™s impressive arsenal in the war against cancer.
We all know the speech, Valvano on stage with tumors rotting virtually everything in his body except his spirit. He told stories, made jokes and, most importantly, announced, in collaboration with ESPN, his creation of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, which works to find a cure for this disease.
Look, I realize that there are cancer awareness months for colorectal (March), breast (October), lung (November), etc., but the way I see it is that cancer is cancer â€“ it may be infecting a different part of the body, but ultimately itâ€™s the same deadly monster. And thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve always liked about The V Foundation; Iâ€™ve always felt that its research is going to the bigger picture.
By the time we hit college, I think that pretty much all of us have been directly affected by cancer in one way or another. Since Williamâ€™s death eight years ago, Iâ€™ve lost both my aunt and grandmother to Leukemia and lung cancer, respectively. It sucks, but itâ€™s the reality of the world we live in.
But it doesnâ€™t have to be.
Iâ€™m a strong believer that for every disease out there, a cure has to also exist. I mean, for every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction, right?
Though Jimmy V Week might end on Tuesday, donations to the foundation are accepted all year round at www.jimmyv.org or you can text JIMMYV to 85944 to give $10 â€“ and letâ€™s face it, if you can afford a cell phone bill, then dropping a few bucks that could help eventually save yours or a loved oneâ€™s life shouldnâ€™t be a tough task.
Since December of 2002, whenever ESPN plays Valvanoâ€™s speech, I always stop whatever Iâ€™m doing to simply listen. And every time I do, thereâ€™s a particular part that gets my heart racing and reminds me to refocus on the important things in life.
Iâ€™ll leave you with the following excerpt from Mr. Valvano:
â€œTo me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, thatâ€™s a full day. Thatâ€™s a heck of a day.â€
I just want to say to Jimmy V, William and all cancer victims worldwide, you will never be forgotten and we will never stop fighting.
I promise you that.
Sports Editor Matt L. Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.