Jan Ross believes sports helped save her.
Ross, a longtime Oklahoma women's basketball assistant coach, was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2012. Throughout the monthslong fight, she leaned heavily on Sherri Coale — her boss and best friend — and the Sooner players.
Her life as an athlete and coach also prepared Ross, she said, because she knew how to create a plan of attack and fight.
Ross has been cancer free for more than a year now.
She was a multisport star at Putnam City West, then played college basketball at Oklahoma Christian, where she first met Coale.
The two became close, and after coaching at Del City and Broken Arrow, Ross joined Coale's OU staff in 1996.
I was born in Chickasha, and had three older siblings — an older sister and two older brothers. I grew up following them around, and playing against older guys. I moved to Oklahoma City when I was in fourth grade, so I immediately got into sports at Putnam City Schools.
Back then, you played everything, even at the big schools. When I got to high school, Jim Brown was our head coach in basketball. He was just one of those figures that you looked up to all the time, how he carried himself, the confidence. He was a huge influence on me.
I was probably a little bit of a brat when I got to high school, but he immediately just changed me by his presence.
Max Dobson was our head coach in college. He was the same type of influence, except more off-the-court than on-the-court. He really showed me how one relates to the other, and how you can carry over what you do on the floor to what you do in your personal life, and vice-versa.
I was a math person. I thought I would be an accountant.
Every day after practice, Sherri and I would stay and watch the men practice. Dan Hays was there; he was just an incredible teacher, and we were just in awe of how he ran his practices.
I think I knew the whole time that I'd end up in the gym and not in an office somewhere.
I knew I'd be a coach. I didn't know I'd be a college coach. I thought I'd be a high school teacher and coach for the rest of my life. Then Sherri got this opportunity and here we are.
I'm actually a year older than Sherri, so I was there when she was recruited. I met her when she came up to visit.
You immediately knew the type of person that she was, and that she was gonna be successful and she was gonna make our team successful. I'd say we hit it off pretty quick.
We are very different. She's much more high-strung; I'm much more laid back. But I think the way we work and our beliefs are all the same. It's kinda neat that we're so close, but so different.
She gets me a little more intense, and hopefully I calm her down a little bit. It's perfect.
When she got the OU job, I came down a couple times just to help her with stuff. They really didn't want her to hire another high school coach, so she didn't hire me, and it was no big deal. I just wanted her to be great.
She was looking for people, and finally she told them, “I need somebody to come do some work, because we've gotta get busy.” So they let her hire me.
My cancer battle was easier because of Sherri and the players. A lot easier.
It's still something I live with. It's still just a big part of who I am.
I'm healthy, but I don't think I'll ever be as healthy as I was before. I still take medicines, still get checkups all the time. But I feel fine. I love getting up every day and coming to work.
It changes you, so I don't know if you ever feel like you get back to “normal.”
My hair now is still different than it was before. It grows back different.
Mentally, I don't think it'll ever be the same. I'll always have that in the back of my mind, what I went through, and “Is it gonna come back?”
Sports prepare you for what you're gonna face in life. My being an athlete and being a coach and being in sports prepared me for my cancer battle. I think that's why I was so successful.
I know how to fight.
In basketball, you get a game plan and you go into battle.
You do the same thing when you have cancer. You have to figure out a game plan and how you're gonna attack it.
I also think sports are just fun. Why live in this world if you can't be happy and can't enjoy yourself?
Being around young people makes me happy.