Last February, when passing through the doors to Lee Lohman Arena for an afternoon of St. Ambrose University basketball, Betsy Shovlain didn't think much about the "Think Pink'' promotion being held.
It was just another day at the gym to support her husband, SAU men's basketball coach Ray Shovlain, and the school's men's and women's teams.
"I bought a T-shirt. Ray and I made a donation to the American Cancer Society,'' she said. "It was just routine – buy your shirt and make a donation.''
In a year's time, it's amazing how her perspective has changed. Betsy Shovlain, now a cancer survivor, will be an honorary coach for the Davenport school's women's game today and its "Play4Kay'' Cancer Awareness Day activities.
"I really want to be there and have people see that you can go through this and make it,'' said Ms. Shovlain, who spent much of the past nine months fighting Stage 3 breast cancer. "But I also want people to know that it can happen to anyone.
"If you had told me five years ago that I'd be diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd say, 'No way.' For me, it's important that people take care of themselves, go to the doctor and do what they are supposed to do. Preventative medicine is huge.''
Those words of wisdom had been lost on Ms. Shovlain, now 48, whose cancer is in remission after chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"At the age I was, I should have been having mammograms every year,'' she said, relaying she went from April 2008 to March 2011 without the screening. "In that time, it went to Stage 3 with it going into lymph nodes on my right side.
"For me, I want people to know that it can happen to anyone because we have no family history of breast cancer," she said. "I had myself convinced it would be something else. I was in a state of shock: This couldn't happen to me.''
But it did.
"To see somebody suffer and really going through stuff, you'd like to deflect some of it and make it different, it just doesn't work that way,'' said Ray Shovlain. "You want to do something, but there's nothing you can do other than say some prayers and be supportive and as positive as possible.''
For her treatments, Ms. Shovlain usually was accompanied by her sister, Julie, a nurse, and her brother, Pat. At her request, her husband stayed home in an attempt to keep routines intact not only for himself, but also for their two teenage children – Katelyn, now a freshman at SAU, and Sean Michael, now a freshman at Assumption High School.
"People thought it was different the way we handled it, but I really wanted things at home to stay as normal as possible,'' she said. "I felt the kids would have an easier time with it.''
On the surface, it appeared not much changed for Mr. Shovlain and his team or the department he oversees as athletic director.
"There were very few things I missed, that's for sure,'' said an appreciative Mr. Shovlain, who also teaches business classes.
The entire family was affected as Ms. Shovlain spent weeks at a time in Rochester.
"It's not something I'd want to do again, but it really put things in perspective for me as to what's important and what's not important,'' she said. "It really brought Ray's side of the family and my family closer together.
"You go through something like that, and you realize how precious life is," she said. "I think everyone put things in perspective. I know it's helped me and helped Ray in ways.''
It also brought about an incredible amount of community support for the family, which was thankful for benefit events and fundraisers that helped offset non-insurance-covered expenses incurred with the out-of-town treatments.
"One thing that has been unbelievable is the prayers and support we've received from everybody.'' said Mr. Shovlain. "That's been truly outstanding and appreciated.''
If you go to Play4Kay:
"Play4Kay'' is a national program named in honor of legendary college women's basketball coach Kay Yow.
SAU's Play4Kay starts at 1 p.m. today at Lee Lohman Arena on the SAU campus. Pink T-shirts will be sold for $10, raffles will be held and donations accepted. The SAU women's team will wear pink T-shirts for warmups and pink shoelaces.
Money raised at the event will stay local, going to the 150-plus member Kramer Society of the Quad Cities that is developing scholarship opportunities. It also is researching education and support programs and services to benefit Quad City breast cancer patients, survivors and their families.