Basketball coach’s battle against cancer inspires commitment to help others
It was 10 years ago, but Valorie Whiteside remembers it like it was yesterday.
Whiteside was set to begin her first year as the Dorman High School girls basketball team head coach. She knew it was a demanding job with high expectations for winning, and she was excited to start the job.
Then one morning in the shower, she discovered a lump in her breast. She’d had a mammogram several months earlier, and everything looked fine. Now she was unsure.
Whiteside scheduled an appointment with her physician, who recommended a follow-up mammogram. Doctors discovered that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer.
“It was devastating and frightening,” she said. “But as I tell my players, ‘You’re going to encounter obstacles in life. You have to figure out how to overcome them.’”
Within days, she underwent a mastectomy, followed by a grueling regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.
Whiteside had always worked hard to be healthy. She’d been an athlete herself; enjoying a storied career as a basketball player at Chapman High School and then Appalachian State University. She continued to exercise and stay in good shape.
Even while undergoing harsh treatment for breast cancer, she kept working. She was committed to staying active and showing up every day to support the girls on her team.
But, she said, “I didn’t do it alone.”
The team at Gibbs Cancer Center was with her each step of the way.
“They provided outstanding care,” she said. “My doctors, nurses, care navigators – they treated me like I was family.”
Whiteside believes in giving back. Each year, her team puts on a fundraiser for a cause that makes a difference in the community.
The team is planning to raise money this coming season in support of Spartanburg Regional Foundation’s Mammography Assistance Fund. The fund helps to cover the cost of mammograms for uninsured women.
“This is a cause my players can relate to,” she said. “So many of them have family members who have been impacted by the disease.”
Importance of screening and early detection
Shelly Sinclair, senior director of philanthropy with the Foundation, said the team’s contribution will make a difference for women in need.
“The Mammography Assistance Program provides access to screening for women who otherwise would not have a mammogram,” she said. “Early detection is so important, and we know that this program helps save lives.”
Whiteside can attest to the importance of detection. Because her tumor was particularly aggressive, catching it early was critical.
“It’s one of the key reasons my treatment was successful,” she said. “I like to use a sports analogy – a ‘triple threat.’ In the fight against breast cancer, women need mammography screening, self-examination and, if necessary, outstanding care. I was fortunate to have all three.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a time when the Spartanburg Regional Foundation focuses on raising money to support breast health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused some women in the area to lose health coverage and forced others to put off routine mammography, making the need for assistance especially important, Sinclair said.
She thanked the Dorman team for doing their part.
“We are so grateful to Coach Whiteside and her players,” Sinclair said. “What a great example of young people going the extra mile to help others and to make our community a healthier place!”
To make a donation to the Mammography Assistance Fund, please visit https://www.regionalfoundation.com/special-projects/mammography-assistance-fund.