‘Don’t ever give up’ fight against cancer

Published 10:00 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

It is only fitting that, during this third week of July, former North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano takes center stage.

ESPN’s annual ESPY awards ceremony was yesterday. It was there, 22 years ago, that Valvano gave his timeless speech about battling cancer.

Through his efforts the Jimmy V Foundation was created, raising more than $130 million to go toward cancer research and creating its motto of “Don’t Give Up . . . Don’t Ever Give Up” as a mantra for those battling cancer. This hits especially close to home here in southwest Michigan as Dowagiac completed its Relay for Life fundraiser last weekend and Niles hosts its event Friday to raise money for this important cause.

Valvano was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 46. No one knew exactly how badly the disease had devastated his body because the coach chose to use his celebrity status and final days on this earth trying to make a difference for others facing the same fight.

“When people say to me, ‘how do you get through life or each day,’ it’s the same thing. To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives,” Valvano said to a crowd of professional athletes and celebrities that eventually stopped fighting back the tears and let their emotions go.

“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.”

In what was likely an encapsulation of his many locker room speeches, the coach talked about setting goals and striving to achieve those.

“How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal. You have to be willing to work for it.”

“ … I just got one last thing, I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going. To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,’ to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.”

The end of Valvano’s speech resonates just as strongly today as it did in 1993. His words remind us that the fight goes on and that we must celebrate the lives we have.

“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.”

Jim Valvano died less than two months later. His legacy — and that of all those who have fought bravely against cancer — remains stronger than ever.


Michael Caldwell is the publisher of Leader Publications LLC. He can be reached at (269) 687-7700 or by email at mike.caldwell@leaderpub.com.