Friday, February 15, 2013

Sara Jones, how lucky we were to have known you

Hoops for the Cure, a year ago.

Our plan was to visit Sara Jones on Friday afternoon.

We didn't make it, sadly, because she didn't make it. The Old Dominion volunteer assistant coach to Karen Barefoot died on Friday morning at her Norfolk home. She had been under hospice care due to a metastatic cancer that weakened her body but could never mess with her spirit.

LadySwish is lucky. We talked to Sara at length after the Lady Monarchs fell to Pitt on Jan. 2. She made us laugh, smile, cry a bit, but mostly reflect on her tenacious ability and attitude to beat odds most of us never imagine facing.  Our conversation was interrupted often -- by children wanting to share a story, by adults wishing her well, by Lady Monarch fans giving hugs, kisses and gifts. She talked to  everyone easily. She winked and laughed and had a special affinity for little girls, who no doubt reminded her of her precious 5-year-old niece, Landon.

Only when we asked, did Sara turn the conversation to the cancer that had returned three times, each time more vile than before. She shared details of a journey that took her from Norfolk to M.D. Anderson in Houston to Chicago to Atlanta and back home again. Each time she was hoping for her miracle, though she refused to waste a moment  dwelling on the possibility it might never happen. She had a bucket list for the long term and plans for the short term. She didn't waste a day thinking about dying. She had too much living to do.

"Cancer doesn't define me," she said. "Never will."

Sara and Landon
Sara, 40, would have been at Sunday's Hoops for the Cure game, hosted by Old Dominion at 2 p.m. If you've been to that game in previous years, you know the impression those few minutes make preceding the tip. ODU calls it the survivor's walk and invites breast cancer survivors to circle the arena to the song "I Will Survive."

You watch as women and men -- some who look barely out of their 20s; others with walkers; some with no hair; others with plenty; and others, such as ODU senior associate athletic director Debbie White, who look amazingly fit and stylish -- make the circle with smiles, waves and high fives. You cheer a different cheer than the one that comes with the first Lady Monarch points. You are in awe of the perseverance it took for them to be standing where they are.

A few weeks ago, we expected Sara to be part of that circle. But while Hoops for the Cure is about celebrating those who survive breast cancer, it is also about remembering many don't. There is early detection. There is chemo. There is radiation.

There is no cure.

All of us seem to know someone who has endured watching someone we know or someone we love have their life turned upside down by the results of a biopsy. Twice, Sara thought she made it to that five-year mark. But the cancer that first invaded her body at 28 never allowed her to eek pass it.

Like many, LadySwish was touched by Sara Jones, moved by her in a manner even the most gifted wordsmith would find hard to explain. She was candid and genuine, witty and funny. Words like hero are often over used, but rarely have we seen the level of passion, the commitment, the energy despite needing a wheelchair at times, that drove Sara to sit alongside Barefoot on the ODU bench. What marvelous medicine these Lady Monarchs provided her and she them.

All of us will miss her. None of us will forget her. She had lessons for basketball players, for cancer survivors, for just about anyone who has ever faced an obstacle and wondered how on earth to overcome it. While she won't be able to physically circle the Constant Center on Sunday, we have no doubt she'll be there looking down, leading, teaching, inspiring.

She was Sara Jones. She is Sara Jones. May she rest in peace.

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