COLUMBIA – There were no warning signs for Nikki McCray.
As South Carolina’s women’s basketball team began its season, its sixth-year assistant coach felt fine. McCray attended a routine mammogram, an appointment she makes every year. Doctors found a lump on her breast, and everything changed.
McCray was diagnosed with a treatable form of breast cancer in November, she announced Monday. She said she has the most common form of the disease, found in 80 percent of cases. She’ll continue her assistant coach duties with the Gamecocks and does not expect treatment to limit her time with the team.
“I have great doctors, and really looking forward to winning this battle,” McCray said. “Very, very prepared to win this battle. Obviously, got great support from Gamecock nation – our staff, our team, our family, our friends. So many people have reached out today, it’s just been unbelievable just to know the love and support you have.”
Both sides of McCray’s family have a history of breast cancer, including her mother. Knowing her odds of attaining the disease were higher, she has scheduled annual mammograms for years. While pregnant with her first child, McCray said she missed her appointment last year.
McCray said she announced her illness because of a desire to help educate others about breast cancer. A former WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist, McCray has long been a public figure. She’s aware of the platform she has to help others, and she wants to use it.
Most important, she said, is for women to understand the importance of regular mammograms.
“Whatever I need to do to be a voice to make people aware of breast cancer, that’s what I need to do,” McCray said. “Obviously, being an assistant coach, we’re on TV a lot. People, they see me in action, but they don’t see this side of me. This is something that has happened, but it is OK. And I want people to know it is OK. When you have the support that you do and the new treatment plans and everything out there, you’re going to be fine.”
On the US National Team, McCray was teammates with South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley. She said there was a “moment of silence” when she shared the news with Staley over a telephone call.
After absorbing the shock, Staley offered her full support.
“When Nikki called me with the unexpected news, my immediate reaction was to become the best supporter for her through this process,” Staley said in a statement Monday. “Family is important to us, and we all have embraced Nikki’s diagnosis with that mindset and providing her with all the moral and physical support she needs. Our ‘Play 4 Kay’ game will definitely have an even more personal meaning for us this year.”
Even as she discussed her health, McCray’s thoughts weren’t far from her team.
South Carolina moved further into the top 10 Monday, ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. McCray talked about the Gamecocks’ win at Auburn over the weekend, and the goals it hopes to attain in the future.
“Obviously, my health is my No. 1 priority, but … I want to keep things just as consistent with our players, because that’s how we are,” McCray said. “Our goal is to win an SEC championship. Our goal is to continue to make the NCAAs and go further in the NCAAs. So my focus is to continue to do what I do and help us prepare each and every day to do that.”