‘A beacon for others’: Auburn basketball’s Cancer Pearsons AUTLIVE
AUBURN, Alabama – Dropping her daughter off at school one morning last fall, Nancy Pearson noticed the distinctive license plate on the car in front of her.
“That’s me,” said Pearson, an Auburn realtor, mother of two teenagers and wife of Clark Pearson, Auburn’s senior athletic coach for men’s basketball. “I will fight with everything I have in me.”
A few weeks earlier, a routine mammogram had led to a diagnosis of breast cancer known as invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I was about to pass out from fear,” Nancy said, recalling an anxious week spent waiting for the biopsy results.
On August 30, 18 years and a day after losing her father to pancreatic cancer, Nancy’s cancer journey began when a doctor told her surgery would be needed.
“The fear was there because it’s a word that scares everyone,” she said. “Especially after losing my father and grandmother, five months before my father died, to bladder cancer.”
A week after the diagnosis, a lumpectomy removed 8 millimeters of cancerous tissue.
“I was lucky and lucky that he was caught so early that I had that choice,” she said.
At the end of October, Nancy had the first of 20 radiation treatments.
On November 19, surrounded by family and close friends, Nancy rang the bell at Spencer Cancer Center, signaling the end of her radiation treatment regimen.
“When it came time to ring the bell, it was much more emotional than I expected,” she said. “The tears flowed. It was a wonderful day.”
After Nancy’s last treatment, a radiation therapist gave her a butterfly-shaped ornament that included a ribbon, a symbol of breast cancer, a gift that has special meaning for Nancy.
“The song for my dad and I that we always had was ‘Butterfly Kisses,'” she said, referring to a song about a father’s love for his daughter as he watches her grow. . “On the day of his funeral, as we arrived at the cemetery, a butterfly was landing on the back of the hearse when we pulled up.
“The day of my last treatment was the 19and anniversary of the day they discovered his pancreatic cancer.”
The butterfly ornament reminds Nancy of her father’s enduring presence.
“This, to me, told me that my dad was with me throughout the case,” Nancy said, holding the ornament. “On this day, 19 years later to the day, it was given to me. It will be with me forever.”
Days later, Nancy accompanied Clark to the Bahamas to support the Tigers in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a tournament that first showcased Auburn’s 2021-22 potential to a national audience.
“That’s how we celebrated,” she said.
For the next five years, Nancy will take daily tamoxifen, a drug designed to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Within six months, she became an advocate for early detection, sharing her story on social media and connecting with other cancer survivors.
“If I can be some kind of light for them,” she said. “I’m very grateful that my journey with him wasn’t as intense as some have to go through. And it hurts my heart for them because it was scary.
“Even if it’s just what I had, it’s still scary, and the fear of it possibly coming back. Or are we sure we’ve got it all figured out? Is there more? That fear is still there. We continue to rely on prayer and know that he is going to help us and get us through.”
In a recent week, five friends contacted Nancy to tell her they had scheduled mammograms after hearing her story, one that started with her following her doctor’s instructions to schedule a mammogram after an annual checkup.
“You have to go,” she said, urging people to overcome the discomfort of not wanting to face testing and screening. “If I hadn’t gone, it could have gotten worse. I’m grateful to try to keep listening to my body, praying and urging people to go.”
“I’m very proud and blessed that something so positive came out of it,” Clark said.
On February 12, Auburn Men’s Basketball will host its annual AUTLIVE Cancer Game against Texas A&M, raising awareness of cancer prevention and detection while sharing proceeds from the sale of T-shirts with local cancer patients in the need.
“We are extremely blessed, not only with the result, but also that she used it as a platform for early detection,” Clark said. “Cancer affects everyone in one way or another.
“It’s the fact that you’re going through cancer, or your loved one is going through cancer. It changes your perspective. You really don’t know until you’ve been through it.”
Before the Tigers and Aggies raise the alarm, Auburn coaches, student-athletes and staff will be holding AUTLIVE signs with the names of loved ones whose lives have been touched by cancer. For the first time, Clark will write Nancy’s name on his sign.
“Having your spouse go through this has a slightly different meaning and weight,” he said. “You really appreciate the blessings and the support and the fact that you’re not going through this on your own.
“The fact that the AUTLIVE program and all the people who have been affected come together, that makes it special.
“When you go through something like this with a family member, it has a different impact. It’s more than just an event. It’s a meaning, it’s a cause.
“We want to keep his platform going. We want to keep helping others keep going and helping people fight the good fight.”
Every day as a sports coach of the national team n°1, Clark Pearson takes care of elite athletes. When he leaves Auburn Arena and returns home, he sees another champion.
“I’m very impressed with his mental strength and tenacity,” Clark said. “While working, taking care of the household and being a beacon to others.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer