Dooley fights breast cancer with faith, humor

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.

If you go

WHAT: Speaker and author Barbara Dooley will be the keynote speaker for The Augusta Chronicle We Think Pink banquet.

WHEN: Oct. 26 at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. Doors open at 6 p.m., and dinner will be served at 7 p.m. Bidding for a silent auction will be held between 6 and 7 p.m.

TICKETS: $35 per person, or a table of eight is $250. Available at The Augusta Chronicle News Building, 725 Broad St., and the Columbia County News-Times, 4272 Washington Road, Suite 3B, Evans.

OF NOTE: The presenting sponsor for the banquet is University Hospital, supported by Comcast. Proceeds benefit The Lydia Project.


The facts

According to the American Cancer Society, only skin cancer is more common among American women than breast cancer.

2.5 million: Breast cancer survivors in the United States

12%: A woman's estimated chance of developing invasive breast cancer

207,090: Estimated new cases of invasive female breast cancer that will be diagnosed in 2010

39,840: Estimated women who will die of breast cancer in 2010

Support groups

- The Pink Magnolias Breast Cancer Support Group, University Hospital Breast Health Center, next meeting Oct. 11, 6:30 p.m. Call (706) 774-4141 for more information.

- University Hospital is forming a new breast cancer support group targeting younger patients in their 20s and 30s. Its first meeting will be held at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Breast Health Center. For more information, call the center at (706) 774-4141.

- Pink Butterflies, first floor of Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center, every second Thursday, 5:30 to 7 p.m. Call (706) 721-4109.

- Journey of Hope cancer support group, Barney's Pharmacy, 2604 Peach Orchard Road, every third Monday at 6 p.m. Call (706) 798-5645.

- Cancer Survivors Support Group, 6 p.m. every second Thursday, Augusta Oncology Associates, 3696 Wheeler Road. Call Lance at (706) 651-2283.

- Pink Ribbonettes Support Group, Oct. 9, tea from 2 to 4 p.m., Millbrook Baptist Church atrium in Aiken. Call Peggy at (803) 648-1911.