A Victory Over Breast Cancer

Barbara Dooley faced her illness with the same dedication that made her husband Vince a coaching legend

People who are confronted with a life-threatening illness may look to their spouse for nonstop sympathy, but what if your spouse is legendary coach Vince Dooley? Barbara Dooley found out exactly what kind of support her husband was ready to give when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and today she couldn’t be more thankful.

“Vince was really tough on me at first,” Barbara says. “If he thought I was having a ‘pity party’ he would bring me into the thoughts of all of the good things in my life. His determination that I was going to beat it certainly kept me in that same frame of mind.”

Determination had served Vince and Barbara well in the past. In his twenty-five years as head football coach at the University of Georgia, Vince led the Bulldogs to 201 victories. He was named NCAA National Coach of the Year twice and SEC Coach of the Year seven times. Throughout it all, Barbara was by his side, providing support and inspiration in a public life filled with passionate fans and unrelenting demands of time and energy. Then in November of 2005, Barbara received her breast cancer diagnosis.

“I can remember very clearly that my first emotion was shock,” Barbara recalls. “I thought I had done everything to keep healthy. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink and I exercised daily and ate healthily.”

Despite her initial feeling that her body had “betrayed” her, it wasn’t long before Barbara decided on a new tactic.

“I coped by getting a mental grip on the situation and an organized plan,” Barbara says. “And the determination to beat it.”

 Her husband’s success as a coach had already given Barbara a clear picture of how to put her new attitude into action.

“Watching Vince through the years prepare for each football season taught me the importance of setting goals and aiming for those goals with complete dedication and resolve,” Barbara says. “My goal was to live and believe me: I did everything that I possibly could to reach that goal. I wasn’t going to let this bump in the road get me.”

Although she can compare the way Vince faced challenges on the football field to her own struggle with breast cancer, the actual game of football faded into the background of her life.

“For the first time since college, football took a back seat,” Barbara says. “I realized—I think for the first time—that football just wasn’t that important in my life. Vince was no longer involved and I looked at it as more of a fan than a participant.”

“Fighting for your life puts everything else in perspective,” she says.

Barbara’s treatment consisted of eight weeks of chemotherapy followed by thirty-six days of radiation. Along with getting well, she was determined to keep living life as she had known it.

“Believe me, there were days that I stayed in bed,” Barbara says about her time in chemotherapy. “But when I was up, I dressed, put on make-up and pranced out in one of my five different color wigs.”

Barbara didn’t want her family to see her “down” because of cancer. Looking back, she says Vince and her children were her “eagle’s wings.”

“Vince watched me like a hawk to make sure I was eating and he spoon-fed me on the days that I felt really bad,” she recalls. “Both of my daughters made sure that one of them took me to chemo and the other spent the night, just in case their dad didn’t hear me if I needed something. My boys checked in every day and I must say that my family’s attention was another motivation to live.”

Now a breast cancer survivor, Barbara can weave the story of her struggle into her current work as a motivational speaker. The football stories usually have her audiences laughing, but her words of survivorship are often the most inspiring.

“I think that there is a huge link between my fight and my work as a motivational speaker,” Barbara says. “I think reaching any goal is having the right mind set to achieve. If you don’t think you can win, you probably won’t. But on the other hand, if you think you can do it, you more than likely will or at least come very close.”

“As I grow older, I see just how important attitude is in a person’s life,” Barbara says. “It is truly the difference between misery and happiness.” 
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