Former BYU women’s basketball player Melanie Pearson Day got horrible news in 2013.
She had cancer.
In 2014, she was declared cancer-free, but the disease reared its ugly head shortly thereafter.
In January 2016, the doctors determined the cancer was terminal.
“What mattered to me after that point was my husband and my kids,” Pearson Day said. “You know, my friends will be OK without me. I love them, they love me, but they have their families to support them. But my kids won’t have a mom. My husband won’t have a wife.”
Pearson Day explained once the initial shock wore off, she struggled with depression for the first part of 2016. Pearson Day’s friends helped her see that her children would be able to not only get through this, but they would be stronger because of it.
Pearson Day created a blog to document her struggles and journey with the disease called FiveYearsToLive.org. One of the stories on her site is a bucket list — a wish list of things she’d like to accomplish.
At the top of that list was a goal to attend a Duke-North Carolina game in Durham at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
When BYU women’s basketball coaches heard about her dream, they tried to make it happen.
Pearson Day is still an avid BYU fan and attends many home games. After the Cougars’ 70-65 over St. Mary’s on Jan. 5, the coaches and team surprised her with tickets to the event she simply calls, “The Game.”
“When they surprised me, I had no idea,” Pearson Day said. “I still feel a little like, ‘Is this a joke?’ Never did I ever think that I would get tickets to that game. No one gets tickets to that game. But it was something that would’ve been amazing, so I just put it on my list for fun.”
As impossible as it seemed, BYU women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins and the entire women’s basketball team worked to make it possible.
Judkins wrote to Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and women’s basketball coach Joanne McCallie, hoping they could help Pearson Day’s dream come true.
“Within a week, I got a call from Coach Krzyzweski’s secretary,” Judkins said. “She said they read the letter and cried and they wanted to (help her).”
Duke provided two tickets for Pearson Day and her husband, Preston Day, to attend the top 20 matchup on Feb. 9. The BYU women’s and men’s basketball coaches, players and staff members contributed their own money towards the couple’s flight and hotel.
“That’s what really touched me,” Melanie said. “These players, they can’t have a normal job, but they gave their money to me. And it was a lot. I’m just so impressed that they would do that.”
Melanie and her husband traveled to Durham to see the big match-up and she said it was even better then she expected.
She thought they were only going to attend the game, but Duke and UNC took the couple on a tour of the facilities and allowed them to attend practice to meet the players of both teams.
Duke gave the couple passes to come early to the game and watch the student section flood the arena, packing in like “sardines.”
They were on the court until five minutes before tip off and enjoyed every minute of the game.
“It was honestly the best week of my life. It was like a basketball fantasy,” Melanie said. “I loved being able to share my story with others.”
Judkins explained Melanie was a great player at BYU in 2001-2002 and remains a great example for the team.
“(Melanie) is probably one of the best alumni with being involved with the team,” Judkins said. “I think what she’s done and showed the team is that no matter how tough the situation is or how bad it is, enjoy life, enjoy what you’re doing.”
Melanie said she continues to find joy in her life by teaching her children everything from basketball skills to eternal principles with her husband in their home in Lehi, Utah.
“My kids may not always see me, but I will always hover and protect them,” Melanie said. “That is what gives me hope and makes days easier. I know that every day is just a tiny drop in the bucket, and I want to share that with everyone.”