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October 12, 2012

OU coach relies on her salvation to see her through cancer treatment

NORMAN — It wasn’t the words that bothered Jan Ross so much; it was saying the words that got to her.

“I have cancer” was hard to say.

Ross is assistant women’s basketball coach for the University of Oklahoma. She and head basketball coach Sherri Coale have been friends for years, starting in their college days.

“Calling my sister, calling Sherri was hard,” Ross said. “I’m a pretty faithful person. I wasn’t scared; I knew it would be OK. But it was hard to make those calls.”

Listening to Ross it’s easy to see that she is not simply a faithful person; she is a Faith Full person who leaned heavily upon her religious convictions to see her through her cancer.

Today, she is four months out from her last chemo treatment and has been deemed cancer-free.

The beginning

In April, the Sooners were between seasons. The team was regrouping and recouping after their season was cut short. Coale was trying to find a way to turn a pink ladder into an inspiration tool, and Ross had scheduled time for personal health care.

“I had my yearly mammogram and they called to say they’d found a knot,” Ross, 48, said. “I had a biopsy a week later.”

This is where her faith came into play.

“I had surgery on May 8. It was a single mastectomy,” she said. “I’m definitely an optimistic person.

“Until I got the final word, I thought it would be OK,” Ross said.

While Ross faced this challenge, with Coale nearby, the team wrestled with their assignment: Come up with six words that crystallized their core beliefs, their hopes, their dreams ... their goals.

The young women rose to that challenge and surprised their coaches along the way. Among all the individual sentiments was one team-defining goal: “Playing for our rock Coach Ross.”

If Ross was the team’s rock, then who is Ross’s rock?

“That’s easy. First, it’s my God. My faith is my rock,” Ross said. “It’s my hope; it’s how I get through every day.

“How can you not be positive when you’re around such great young people. They keep you going.

“I’ve got lots of rocks,” she said. “Seeing that ladder ... that was a touching moment. It was one of those special moments in life.”

Heartache and joy

Like so many women with breast cancer, Ross was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. About 80 percent of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas, according to breastcancer.com.

“It was grade three,” Ross said.

Along with that diagnosis, came a different kind of disappointment.

For the previous two years, Ross has been a leader on a mission trip to Haiti. The first year, she and other sponsors took 25 young people, many from the women’s basketball team, to Haiti. This was just after a devastating earthquake rocked the small island country.

“Our first trip was planned before the earthquake,” Ross said. “We were just going to go and help the people.

“When the earthquake hit, we didn’t know if we’d be able to go. But the Mission of Hope people said we were needed more than ever, so we went.”

That was the first year. The second year, they took more than 40 Sooners with them, this time football players as well as women basketball players.

May was to be the third trip; Ross’s surgery was in May as well.

“I couldn’t go this year,” Ross said. “Oh, that hurt my heart. It hurt my heart bad.”

After her May 8 surgery, Ross began chemo treatments. Starting June 4, she was scheduled for four treatments three weeks apart.

“After the first treatment, I thought I was doing well,” she said. “I had a little fever, but that was the only time I felt sick at all.

“You know, some of the best moments were while going through chemo,” Ross said. “You think it’s going to be all gloom and doom in there, but it wasn’t. There were so many stories to hear.”

About this time, the team had a trip planned to Australia, it would fall during Ross’s chemo treatments. She already had missed the mission trip to Haiti, but now Australia, too?

After consultation and due consideration, her doctor adjusted the chemo treatment schedule, clearing the way for Ross to join the team on the trip.

“It was amazing,” she said. “We did all the tourist things.

“The team also had some personal down time. So while they went shopping and such, I stayed back and rested.

“It all worked out well. It was great,” she said.

What’s next?

Ross’s goal is simply to make this into something positive.

“Robin Roberts said she wants ‘to make a message of her mess,’” Ross said, quoting ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” anchor who is staging her own fight against cancer.

“That’s what I want to do; I want to be a message for young people,” Ross said. “I want to let them know that this isn’t that big a deal. You can go on.

“I want to let people see that, whatever it is, with God’s help you can get through. I want to be that message for them.”

In the end, Ross brings her story full circle to her trust in her salvation.

“If you have that, you’ll be OK,” Ross said.

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