Since 2006, the NCAA and ESPN have sponsored Jimmy V Week, showcasing the country’s best college basketball teams in a competition to fund the V Foundation’s effort to cure cancer.
Jimmy V Week was founded upon a speech made by Jimmy Valvano in March 1993 at the first annual ESPY Awards. The former basketball coach, who won a NCAA National Championship at North Carolina State in 1983, delivered a powerful and moving speech while accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award.
Coach Valvano was in the final stages of his battle with bone cancer. He had to be assisted to the podium by his two close friends, Dick Vitale and Mike Krzyzewski. Once there, Coach Valvano came to life and was full of energy and passion saying, “I am fighting cancer. Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left, and I have some things that I would like to say.”
He told the crowd, “There are three things we all should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. 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, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
Coach Valvano talked about the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research and the importance of raising money for cancer research. He said, “It may not save my life. It may save my children’s lives. It may save someone you love. The Foundation’s motto is ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.’ That’s what I’m going to try to do every minute that I have left.”
Finally, he said, “I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I want to say it again. Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
Cancer took Coach Valvano two weeks later. There are many memorable speeches, but every so often there is a speech in the most extraordinary of circumstances that stands the test of time — a speech that continues to move people to tears and motivates them in ways they had never imagined. A speech that stays with you forever. Coach Valvano’s speech was one of those.
Last week I met Jackson Conway, a remarkable young man. He is from Evergreen, Alabama, is 14 years old, a freshman at Sparta Academy, plays all sports, likes hunting and fishing, is an avid Alabama football fan, and has cancer.
He was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma last July, with a tumor on his jaw bone and deposits in his lungs. We have flown him to M.D. Anderson for treatments. He has been taking chemo treatments for months. Doctors recently removed the tumor and a large section of his right jawbone. They replaced his jawbone with a bone graft from his right lower leg, which left him with a terrible scar and in a walking boot. They also took his lower right teeth and left him with a scar under his right jaw.
He is a handsome and intelligent young man. A young man that could just as easily be mine or yours, instead of Kristy and Terry Conway’s. He is stoic, yet upbeat about his situation. He talks about playing sports and hunting deer..
He also talks about his recent trip to Tuscaloosa, attending an Alabama football practice, spending time with the players, meeting Coach Saban, hanging out in Coach Saban’s office, and trying on his practice hat. He gave the players wrist bands that have his name and favorite bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11. Some of the players, including quarterback Jalen Hurts, wore Jackson’s wrist bands in the game against Mercer in November. They send him messages of encouragement.
Through his treatment, Jackson has been a rock of faith. He tells his family, “I know I am going to be ok. Don’t worry, I am going to win this.” In Houston during Hurricane Harvey, Jackson asked his Mom, “Why are y’all worried about the storm? God has helped me through cancer up to this point, so he’s going to take care of us through the storm.”
Jackson follows Coach Valvano’s creed, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Do something to help, do something to help someone. We can’t save Jimmy Valvano but we might save your child’s life or someone you love. We might save Jackson’s life. He still has a long, hard fight in front of him.
You can follow Jackson and make a contribution on Facebook at TeamJackson. I hope you have as good a month as Jackson.