KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Whenever Tennessee coach Holly Warlick needs inspiration, she only has to look at the example set by her older sister.
While Warlick was preparing for her debut season as the Lady Vols' head coach last fall, her sister was battling breast cancer. After undergoing a double mastectomy in September, Marion Ferrill has recovered to the point that she has attended all but one Tennessee home game and four of the Lady Vols' road games.
Warlick's family situation brings special meaning to Sunday's matchup as No. 12 Tennessee (19-5, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) hosts Vanderbilt (16-8, 6-5) in its annual "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game to raise awareness of breast cancer and support the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Both teams will have pink uniforms, with Tennessee wearing a lighter shade.
"You talk about courage and competing, that's an example to me of being courageous, understanding what you have to do and just tackling it head on," Warlick said. "That's what she did. It's incredible what she went through, and I'm obviously proud of how she went through it. We're very blessed she made it through."
Ferrill, who had been undergoing annual mammograms since the age of 30, said she discovered in late August that she had breast cancer. She said the diagnosis came exactly a year after she learned she had Parkinson's disease.
"Sometimes you think if you get diagnosed with a disease, all of a sudden, you should feel it or feel bad or have some side effects or have some things that are synonymous with that disease," Ferrill said. "I just didn't feel bad. I was upset, yes, but I couldn't get too upset because I didn't feel bad at all."
Ferrill said the news devastated Warlick. The two sisters had always been close and even shared a room while growing up together in Knoxville with their brother.
"We've always been there for each other," said Ferrill, the oldest of the three siblings. "I helped her out when she was in school and before school. She helps me out. Whatever the other one needs, we want to be sure that they have it. My brother's that way too. He keeps up with Holly and keeps up with me. He calls me at least once a day."
Ferrill said she had the double mastectomy in late September. She underwent two reconstructive surgeries in December. Her cancer now is in remission.
"With early detection you can get through it," Ferrill said. "I feel early detection saved me."
She credits Warlick for helping her through the grueling recovery process. The situation made this a difficult year for Warlick on and off the court.
Warlick already was facing the pressure of replacing Pat Summitt, who had led Tennessee to 1,098 victories, eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances in 38 seasons before stepping down last year. Warlick also was concerned about the health of Summitt, who announced in 2011 that she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
Then she learned her sister had cancer less than three months before the start of the season.
"I won't lie to you, it was a tough year with Pat's situation and then hers," Warlick said. "It hits home. You're surrounded by things that happen. As you're struggling with your team, your personal life and your family situation is obviously that much more important. This fall, I was concentrating on our team but totally absorbed and concerned with my sister."
Warlick already had lost her grandmother to breast cancer. Warlick and LSU coach Nikki Caldwell - a former Lady Vols assistant - founded the Champions For A Cause Foundation, which conducts long-distance motorcycle road trips dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer. The foundation has raised more than $125,000.
The foundation has conducted rides from San Francisco to Knoxville and from the Badlands to Las Vegas along with trips to Key West, New Orleans and Niagara Falls. Warlick said she and Caldwell are planning to organize another ride after this season.
"My efforts have been to find a cure for everyone," Warlick said. "It got really personal this fall. It has a huge meaning for me on Sunday. It just shows you that nobody can be protected from breast cancer. We've all got to make sure we do the right things, make sure we get checked and do the proper things to make sure we catch it early."