Women's Basketball Notebook: This One's For Sara

February 18, 2012
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Feb. 18, 2012

If you look on the sidelines at an Old Dominion University women's basketball game, it looks like any other in college basketball. The Lady Monarchs' bench is led by head coach Karen Barefoot and she is flanked by her coaches and her team. However, one of those staff members is Sara Jones, who is unlike anyone else on the bench. She is an 11-year survivor of cancer.

When you talk to Jones, see her interact with other members of the coaching staff and the team, you wouldn't notice anything different about her. Which makes her even more inspiring to everyone around her.

"Sara brings positive energy, all the time. She is extremely intelligent and understands the game but more importantly she helps us get through adversity and push through," Barefoot said. "It's truly amazing that she can do that especially with a young group that she can do that, she's a really big part of our program."

Jones has become an integral part of the program, traveling with the team and sitting on the bench during games. She tracks down several statistical categories for the team and also serves as a motivator.

"I take certain part of the stats for each of the players, mostly hustle and effort plays. I try to be that smile when they're down or be that high five when they need it. I hope that I'm able to say the right thing when they need it and to keep them motivated," Jones said. "I really enjoy when we travel. I love seeing all the sides of everybody. My favorite part is getting to them not only as a basketball player, but as a person."

When Barefoot became the Lady Monarchs' head coach in June, she knew she wanted Sara to be a part of the program.

"I love everything, I love the girls, I enjoy being a part of such a successful program. It's like what I didn't accomplish in college what I wanted to, God gave me a second chance, it's behind the scenes, but it's so fulfilling."

"Its been therapeutic for me to share my story. When I go through my, day people say I'm an inspiration, I never think that, but it makes me very happy that I could inspire someone to take adversity and not think it's the end. It's a second chance to really live."

"I always knew in the back of my mind I wanted Sara to be a part of our program," Barefoot added. "I wasn't sure if she was going to be able to, but she loves the game and she loves to give back. She's such a positive role model for our community and such a huge advocate in the area to try and beat breast cancer."

"Its really been life changing for me. I knew she wanted me to be a part of the program but I never dreamed they would create a position for me that I would get to travel and get so involved," Jones said. "For me, this has been different the last couple of years. I've just battled such a hard journey, its gives me a purpose. I'm hoping that through being here I'm giving back some."

This year the Lady Monarchs' theme is "Whatever it Takes", it is something that Jones came up with.

"Whatever it takes means to push through, give 1,000 percent, stay positive, have each others back and no matter what you always win. We've really bought into that and I think its made our team better," Barefoot said.

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Jones always loved the game of basketball, she played on two state championship teams in high school and had a passion for the game.

"Ever since I could dribble I was doing it. If my parents wanted to punish me, they would just say no basketball," Jones said. "Right after I graduated, I played on a USA team and went over to Russia which was really cool. I wanted to play basketball in college and ended up going to a junior college and had talked about playing at Old Dominion, but it just didn't work out."

Jones still moved to Norfolk in 1994 and started working for the Norfolk Fire Department in 1999.

In August of 2001, Jones was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that had spread into her lymph nodes. She went through three month of chemotherapy before getting surgery and more chemo.

She was out of the fire department for a little over a year and then got cleared to go back to work. In 2005, Jones found a small pea sized lump one morning while stretching at work.

"I was wondering what it was. It felt like a BB; I thought that's probably fine. But I went to the doctor and they probably took about a year to diagnose me. They were like `you're fine, you're a fire fighter, your in the best shape of your life' and I okay fine with that. "

Later that year, her plastic surgeon took out the lump and told Jones to go home and not worry about it. A few days later, he called to tell her the devastating news that the cancer had in fact returned.

"He called me in tears and told me it was the same kind of cancer. He was devastated and I was also. But we did some surgery and took out a ton of tissue down the ribs on my side."

When Jones was first told she had cancer, one of her original doctors had said to her if it ever returns, you need to check out the MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston, Texas.

The doctor had told her about the facility and said `if you want to live, you need to check it out because the advancements are incredible.' Jones scheduled a consultation that was supposed to last an hour but ended up lasting the entire day.

About 10 different doctors saw and talked to Jones that day and afterwards they formulated a plan for her. They told her this is what would be best for her and in two weeks she packed up everything and moved to Houston.

"For almost four months I went through an intense radiation from my neck line, down through my ribs and up my back. I actually ended up getting third degree burns, and it was really hard. I had to be away from my family, but all my friends made a calendar and each week my friends would come visit me."

After another year, Jones received clearance to go back to the fire department. Things were going well, again almost at the five-year mark cancer free when in March 2010 doctors found out she had metastatic breast cancer. The breast cancer had spread into her bones.

"I've been going through a ton of treatments to keep it in the bone. The doctors say if we can keep it at bay, the chances of being here for a long time are good."

On Sunday, Jones and the Lady Monarchs will host the 10th Annual Hoops for the Cure game, which Jones brought to ODU and has now grown into a national effort to raise awareness for breast cancer. The contest features a pregame cancer survivor walk, which Jones will participate in for the first time in a few years.

"It mean a lot to me because it is a day to celebrate. It's a very emotional day, for everyone on a bunch of different levels. My friends and family are going to be here so its extra special meaning for me," Jones said. "It's going to be a great day and I'm glad we made it 10 years. I never dreamed we'd make it 10 years, and that it would be this big and going through a lot of different colleges."

"It's going to be emotional but also exciting to see her walk. We look at her and sometimes forget she has cancer because of her attitude. She's just such a positive person and it will be a day we never forget," Barefoot said.

The event also benefits the Susan G. Komen Foundation, as 50 percent of all ticket sales will come back to the local Komen affiliate to assist with breast cancer awareness.

"I'm very excited, because I'm really celebrating living. It's getting my mindset right and that wherever you are in your journey, you have to celebrate the small things," Jones said. "The fact that my family is going to be here means so much, and my four-year old niece Landon is going to walk with me, and that means the world to me."