NORMAN — Jan Ross summoned all her strength when she addressed the Oklahoma women's basketball team last April.
The assistant coach tried exuding confidence, but that didn't stop most faces from turning to sheer terror when Ross uttered one grim, panic-inducing word.
“People hear ‘cancer,' and get scared,” Ross said.
Particularly the first time to hear a loved one say it. Those in the room who'd dealt with it knew Ross' breast cancer wasn't unbeatable.
“You could tell who in the room had had personal brushes with it ... For all those who had no relationship with it, it was terror. Absolute terror,” said OU coach Sherri Coale, who felt that powerful fear only a few short years ago.
Thursday, when Oklahoma hosts North Texas inside Lloyd Noble Center, a cancer-free Ross will coach hand in hand with Coale, her longtime best friend who was better able to help Ross because of her mother's successful cancer battle.
Ross and Coale have been close for nearly 30 years. They played college basketball together at Oklahoma Christian, and Ross has worked on Coale's staff since she became OU's coach in 1996.
One day last April, Ross was on the phone with her doctor, learning her diagnosis, when she walked into Coale's office and closed the door.
Fortunately, doctors caught her breast cancer in an early stage; that didn't make it any easier or less scary for Ross' loved ones.
What helped Coale, though, was that she'd been through it before. Her mother, Beverly Stash, is nearly three years removed from beating lymphoma.
“When my mother got the diagnosis ... terror; but it was different when Jan got the diagnosis,” Coale said. “It had a name; it had a face. I knew what we were fighting.”
Ross had surgery May 8, and went through chemotherapy treatments through July.