Barbara Dooley admits she was "petrified" when she was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly five years ago. But the wife of legendary football coach Vince Dooley, who is an acclaimed speaker and author in her own right, used faith and a little perspective (and a little humor) to calm her fears.
"You know, I just decided that I was in a win-win situation," Dooley said. "I'm a believing Christian, so if I died I would be with Jesus in perfect bliss. If I lived, I would be with Vince Dooley. Now, how could I lose?"
Dooley will be the keynote speaker for The Augusta Chronicle We Think Pink banquet on Oct. 26. It is part of the newspaper's effort to highlight October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It includes today's pink edition and a series of articles every Sunday this month, in addition to portraits of breast cancer survivors and their stories.
The beneficiary of The Chronicle's efforts is The Lydia Project, an Augusta-based cancer support group for women that has provided aid and outreach to patients around the world. The group is best known for stylized tote bags provided to patients, but it is really the year of correspondence and encouragement that makes a difference, and oncologists know that, said Executive Director Michele Canchola.
"They hand them out in their office because they know it is a network in a bag," she said. "Their patient is going to get 12 months of support."
The group also provides financial assistance with rent, electric bills and prescriptions, and provides volunteer opportunities for cancer survivors to give back, Canchola said. As of the end of August, the group had already served 4,145 patients this year, nearly surpassing last year's total, she said.
It might be the increased awareness, or it might be that patients are trying to fit it in before the end of the year, but October and the following months see an increase in mammograms, which leads to more biopsies and more patients, said Nicole Aenchbacher, a breast health navigator for Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
"October is very busy," she said, in addition to all of the events this month, adding that education is the key.
"If I'm giving them the education that they need to go to their physician and say, 'I have this family history and I really want this to be addressed,' then maybe I might have saved a life, regardless of where they are getting their care," she said.
It is one of the reasons Dooley says her breast cancer talks are not all that different from the motivational speaking she does for companies and groups.
"Because I try to motivate people that are going through breast cancer," she said.
After being diagnosed in 2005 through treatment in 2006, despite her initial fear, she found that her mindset made all the difference.
"It's something that you have to deal with, just like any other bad thing that happens to you in life, Dooley said. "And it's all about how you deal with it. It's your attitude. I really believe that's a major key in recovery."
It took her about two years to really fully recover from the treatment, but she came roaring back. In addition to speaking, she has a daily radio segment and is a Realtor. She is also author of the book Put Me In, Coach: Confessions of a Football Wife , about her time with Coach Dooley and the University of Georgia Bulldogs.
"I am high energy and I have to have goals," she said. "I am very goal-oriented. I just can't imagine getting up every day with nothing really pressing."
In between all that, she often talks to women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
"People just know I've had it and they call me," Dooley said. "Any time I can help somebody is great."
In November, she will have her five-year anniversary scan, an important milestone for cancer survivors.
"I've got a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator waiting," Dooley said.