As a two-time All-American and SEC Player of the Year, Nikki McCray always found a way to beat the opponent.
She’s confident that she can find a way to beat the latest one.
“I have great doctors, and I’m really looking forward to winning this battle. I’m very, very prepared to win this battle,” South Carolina’s sixth-year assistant coach said on Monday.
Monday should have been a day of celebration for the Gamecocks. USC (16-1, 4-0 SEC) is leading the league and enjoying its best SEC start under coach Dawn Staley. It rose to No. 8 in the Top 25 and center Alaina Coates picked up her second straight SEC Freshman of the Week prize. USC is in the midst of what could be its best season in over 30 years.
Nobody felt like partying. Not when one of their own had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
McCray publicly announced her illness on Monday morning and spoke about it in the afternoon. She has known her diagnosis since November and has already begun treatment.
“I will tell you that I do have the most common type. Eighty percent of women do have this kind of type of cancer,” McCray said. “I’ve got great support from Gamecock Nation, my family, friends, so many people have reached out today. It’s just been unbelievable just to know the love and support that you have. I know that I’m not alone.”
Doctors have told her that the disease is treatable. McCray has been dealing with the treatment and informing those closest to her since she was diagnosed.
Because of a history of breast cancer on each side of her family, McCray has regularly gone for checkups since her mother was diagnosed with the same disease. She skipped her yearly mammogram this past year because she was eight months pregnant with her son, but once she stopped breast-feeding, she found something.
“I did a routine check and found a knot, a lump, and went in and got my mammogram and it was confirmed that I did have breast cancer,” McCray said. “You have to change your diet a little bit, and do things a little bit differently, but you also have got to have a great support system, and that’s what I have.”
McCray recently informed the team and promised them it would be a business-as-usual approach. She plans to keep coaching as long as she is able.
“This is not about me,” she said. “They know me, I’m a competitor, boom, let’s go. Coach McCray is still the same, and I’m always going to be the same. I’m in great spirits and I’m doing well.”
Staley released a statement pledging support for her longtime friend and assistant coach.
“When Nikki called me with the unexpected news, my immediate reaction was to become the best supporter for her through this process,” Staley said. “Family is important to us, and we all have embraced Nikki’s diagnosis with that mindset and providing her with all the moral and physical support she needs. Our ‘Play 4 Kay’ game will definitely have an even more personal meaning for us this year.”
The “Play 4 Kay” initiative is designed to raise awareness of breast cancer, and is named in honor of longtime N.C. State women’s coach Kay Yow. Yow died in 2009 after a long fight with the disease, and women’s teams across the country don pink uniforms, sneakers, headbands and the like during games each season in remembrance.
The Gamecocks’ “Play 4 Kay” game is on Feb. 23 hosting Florida. As Staley said, USC has a much more personal reason to participate in this year.
“Everything that I’ve done, I’ve always won,” McCray said. “I’m going to focus on a lot on our team, my faith in God, our staff, our fans. Everybody in America has reached out and it has just been so great to see the positivity, knowing that you’re a competitor and you’re going to beat this.”