Last season, the college basketball world watched Kent State coach Danielle O’Banion battle lymphoma.
This week, the cancer-free O’Banion and her team are hosting a “#VictorGame” to celebrate all those who have successfully beat or fought the disease. Bonnie Beachy, who is the Golden Flashes’ all-time leading scorer and the only woman whose jersey the school has retired, will serve as honorary coach for the game. Like O’Banion, Beachy is also a cancer fighter, but she is still battling.
Fans who attend the Saturday game, against North Dakota State, will be asked to sign ribbons with their names, or with the names of loved ones who have fought cancer. At the end of the contest, the ribbons will be added to a banner and fans can join in a post-game “#VictorGame” photo on the court. The first 1,000 fans will receive a free T-shirt.
O’Banion was diagnosed with lymphoma in November, 2014. She continued to coach through the season. This past May, doctors found her cancer in remission and she was declared cancer-free.
The idea for a Victor Game came at a lunch O’Banion had earlier in the year with former Kent State athletic administrator and coach Judy Devine, herself also a cancer survivor.
“She floated the idea, and it kept coming up,” O’Banion said.
It was an idea that was easy to roll with, because O’Banion made many friends while in cancer treatment. One – a 26-year-old woman diagnosed while she was pregnant – had her child and was then successfully treated. She and baby will be in attendance at the Victor Game.
“I’ve developed a lot of great relationships that came out of an unfortunate situation,” O’Banion said.
When diagnosed just before the season began, O’Banion decided she didn’t want the issue to become a distraction for the team. She missed some practices, but had perfect game attendance.
“My physicians always made sure the response to the treatment was good,” O’Banion said. “Sometimes I had to push back treatment because I was on a road trip and we could, because treatment went well.”
“God is good. That’s the bottom line.”
O’Banion said having Beachy as an honorary coach is a thrill.
“She always said….she’s not a victim but a victor,” O’Banion said. “We’re excited to have her.”
Thursday, O’Banion and her team visited the Akron General Cancer Center, where they talked with hematology/oncology Dr. Laurie B. Matt-Amaral, who talked with them about her job, cancer prevention and answered questions.
O’Banion said cancer awareness is a must, and loves the idea of celebrating survival. At the same time, she looks forward to the time when her bout with the disease is further in her past.
“I don’t want to be the cancer coach forever and ever,” she said.
The game begins at 7 p.m. in Kent State’s M.A.C. Center.