Communicator of the Month: Jim Valvano — Cancer Challenger

“Cancer can take away all my physical abilities … but it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, it cannot touch my soul …. and those things are going to live on forever.” — Jim Valvano

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals who have used communications to work for a better future. In 2015, we’re celebrating the contributions of sports icons whose performance on and off the field has brought social change.

Jim Valvano is synonymous with “beating the odds.” In 1983, he led the North Carolina State University’s men’s basketball team to one of the most improbable National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships ever. That year, the Wolfpack barely made it into the NCAA Tournament, having lost 10 games. In the championship game, they faced the No. 1 ranked Houston Cougars — a two-loss team that routed opponents by an average of 18 points per game. The Wolfpack’s win occurred in the final seconds of the game via a 30-foot desperation shot.

A decade after the win, Valvano learned that he had metastatic adenocarcinoma in his spine, which eventually spread to his back, neck, legs and hips. While battling the disease, he advocated for cancer research, which included a national campaign to raise funds and increase awareness.

Before his death at age 47 in 1993, Valvano established the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research — now called the V Foundation for Cancer Research — and created the organization called VICTORIES: Valvano’s Incredible Cancer Team of Really Important Extraordinary Stars. The V Foundation has awarded more than $130 million to more than 120 facilities, and 100 percent of direct cash donations go to cancer research and related programs.