University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams knows what it takes to go up against the toughest opponents on the basketball court and come out on top. For more than a decade, he has been using that same determination to help those who are fighting a different foe: cancer.
On Monday, Williams hosted his 13th annual Fast Break Against Cancer breakfast and auction to support cancer research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The event took place on the opening day of practice for the basketball team, and drew a large crowd to the floor of the Dean E. Smith Center. Fast Break has raised more than $2.4 million to-date, and that figure is expected to increase when an online auction ends on Oct. 16.
In his opening remarks, Williams said the past few days have been hectic for him. He has been traveling to visit prospective recruits, and to meet his newest grandson, who was born this weekend. But he said Monday was a meaningful day for him. He spoke of people in his life who have been touched by cancer, and his own kidney cancer scare.
“Everyone’s lives, including my own, have been touched by cancer in some way through a family member, friend or colleague,” Williams said. “Researchers have made great strides, but until we wipe this disease from the face of the earth, there is more to do. Our Fast Break breakfast is one of thousands of events that can make a difference and is a way we can all fight cancer together.”
Jones Angell, the play-by-play radio announcer for the UNC men’s basketball and football teams, served as the event’s emcee. Other notables from UNC Athletics Department, past and present, attending the event included Woody Durham, the former play-by-play radio announcer for 40 years; Sylvia Hatchell, UNC women’s basketball head coach; former athletic director Dick Baddour, and members of the UNC men’s and women’s basketball programs.
North Carolina Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Carl Fox, who was treated for myelodysplastic syndrome at N.C. Cancer Hospital, delivered the keynote address.
Fox shared the challenges he faced in finding a viable donor for a stem cell transplant. As someone who is African American, Fox said the chances of finding a donor match were not good. According to the Be The Match national bone marrow donation program, ethnicity is important in predicting the likelihood of a match. Of the 6 million people who have joined Be The Match, 5 percent identify as being black or African American.
Fox realized he needed to address this disparity head-on, and launched the “Save the Fox” campaign to encourage people, especially those of African-American descent, to register to donate. Through the campaign, Fox said he and his supporters signed up more than 4,000 donors, and 14 of those were matches.
Fortunately, a match was found for Fox, but not through the registry. Instead, his doctors used stem cells taken from donated umbilical cord blood.
In reflecting on his illness and his return to health, Fox said he was grateful for the many people prayed for him.
“What is my point to you? My point is: be a friend to someone who has cancer,” Fox said. “Pray for someone who has cancer, or think about someone who has cancer. I really believe that was one of the differences in my being here today. If my life was spared, I was going to come out to folks like you, and give to causes that save people’s lives.”
Among the attendees was Darrell Vest, a pancreatic cancer survivor. According to the National Cancer Institute, 8 percent of people with the disease in the United States live five years. But Vest said he was lucky as his cancer was detected early. He came to the N.C. Cancer Hospital for surgery, and credits UNC Lineberger, the cancer research arm of the hospital, with providing research opportunities that drew his surgeon, H.J. Kim, MD, to join the hospital faculty.
“Because he came here, is why I’m still here,” Vest said.
Vest attended Fast Break with his wife and a group of friends to show his gratitude for UNC Lineberger and to support its mission. Vest also made a donation that included money raised through beer sales at his store, D’s Bottle Shop and Craft Beer College in Wakefield, and from friends and supporters.
“I was very humbled by all of that,” he said. “A lot of people made me feel really good by putting money toward this.”
The Fast Break fundraiser will continue through an online auction that will be open through 10 a.m. Oct. 16.