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Friday, September 14, 2012
The phone call that changed my life

By Tina Charles

Tina Charles
Tina Charles helped the Connecticut Sun to an 82-77 win over the Chicago Sky in their Breast Health Awareness game Sunday.

I don't remember exactly when the phone call came, but it was sometime during my freshman year at the University of Connecticut. It was maybe a week or two after the 2006-07 women's basketball season had ended with a disappointing loss to LSU in the Elite Eight. I was still thinking about how we should've been on our way to the Final Four and things that I could've done differently in that game to better our chances. I was thinking of layups that I missed or block-outs I didn't attempt for rebounding positioning. When you attend UConn, not being in a Final Four is considered a disappointing season. I felt like it was the end of the world, but I had to turn my focus on my upcoming shoulder surgery and a hard six-month rehab.

Then my mother called, and the LSU game suddenly meant a lot less.

My family had held out until after my basketball season ended to tell me the heartbreaking news that my grandmother, Naomi Holgate, had breast cancer. I remember being in my dorm room when I received the news, and being really emotional and overwhelmed. That evening, I realized the LSU game was "just a game." I would have three more years with a chance of making Final Four appearances. Everything was put into perspective for me, and I matured that night. You hear about people being victims of different kinds of cancer all the time, but you have no idea what kind of impact it will have until it happens to you.

I am really close to my grandmother. I visit her as often as I can, either in Kingston, Jamaica, where she is originally from, or Florida, where she lives now. When I called to talk to her, she was very upbeat and positive, just as my mother had been when she broke the news to me. This was not our first experience with breast cancer. My mother's older sister, Maureen Vaz, is also a breast cancer survivor.

I was very young when my aunt Maureen was diagnosed, but the one thing I definitely remember from that time was the amount of prayers said and my family's trust in God. It helped lead to some happy moments in what was an otherwise trying time for all of us. When dealing with anybody being diagnosed with cancer, being doubtful and having stress is never going to make anything better. I believe cancer feeds off of a person's emotions. So I began to adopt their attitude.

Today, both my aunt and grandmother are cancer survivors.

This week, the WNBA celebrates Breast Health Awareness. All over the league, teams will wear pink uniforms and raise money for various BHA causes through auctions and donations. Because we were scheduled to travel to the West Coast this week, the Connecticut Sun held their Breast Health Awareness game this past Sunday against the Chicago Sky.

When I put on that pink uniform, it makes me feel good to know I am part of a league that is helping in the fight against breast cancer. It's also a reminder to keep things in perspective. As I learned that day back in college when the phone rang, there is a bigger world beyond basketball.