Jewel May will step on the court today against Arkansas with extra incentive. It's enough that South Carolina is in the thick of a possible postseason run, but she will have something on display today dear to her heart.
Gina May, Jewel's mother, is a breast cancer survivor. The USC junior always wears pink shoelaces to honor her mother, but her teammates and the USC coaching staff also will be in pink today against Arkansas to help raise breast cancer awareness.
In conjunction with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, the Gamecocks will be one of 1,350 women's basketball teams wearing pink this month..
"It's a great way to get a lot of people in one place to raise awareness," May said. "If you don't know anything about breast cancer, at least seeing this pink, it will raise the question in your own mind. It's very close to home because it was a tough time for me. I know it was a hard fight for her, but she got through it."
Gina May was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2006 and nearly died from surgery complications. She had Stage 3 Breast Cancer in her right breast and had a mastectomy to have it removed, but chemotherapy and radiation left her skin feeling like jelly.
After those treatments, she had reconstructive surgery to replace the breast, but a blood clot passed from her leg, across her heart and into her lungs. That caused her to spend several weeks in ICU.
May recovered and is at home. She will be in attendance today and will be one of several survivors honored at halftime.
"I feel very blessed," Gina May said from her home in Conyers, Ga. "I can honestly say I've cheated death, and thankfully God has spared my life. But I can tell you, I couldn't have done it without the support of my children. It probably effected Jewel the most because she was the oldest one living at home at the time."
Jewel provided the emotional support her mother needed. Gina said while she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and could not get out of bed during the day, she would look forward to Jewel coming home from school.
"Every day, Jewel would skip down the hallway, give me a kiss on my forehead and ask me, 'What's up Gina May?,'" she said. "I wasn't having a pity party for myself, but that would always pick up my spirits."
Jewel knew her mother was the strong one and would be there to support her six children. So she didn't mind missing out on some things during her senior year of high school, even though she was a basketball and track star and, according to Gina, was one of the most popular kids at Heritage High.
Jewel never regretted giving back to someone that had given her so much, whether it be helping her mother to the bathroom or forcing her to eat when the treatments made everything taste like metal.
"I was the one that was around her the most, and it was a really tough and trying time for her," Jewel said. "I didn't feel like I was obligated to be there, it was just something I felt like we had to come together and do. We knew she was a strong woman, but everybody needs a little pick me up every now and then. I would come home and make her laugh. It was a gloomy time for her. I just tried to lift her spirits."
Jewel takes part in as many breast cancer projects as she can these days. She walks in several different fundraisers, and her mother appreciates the great lengths she has gone through.
"She is a very special person," Gina said of her daughter. "She didn't have to do the things she did, or even does now, but it helped me get through it. I'm blessed to have all my children turn out that way."
UNIFORM AUCTION SET
The Gamecocks will auction off their pink uniforms on gamecocksonline.com after the game with the money going to support the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund and the Palmetto Health Hospital Breast Center. Yow was the longtime N.C. State coach who died of breast cancer in January, 2009.