Jimmy Valvano's Legacy Lives On
- 27 years after his death, coach Jim Valvano’s legacy continues through his cancer foundation and the millions of people inspired by his legendary speech.
- Valvano was diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma in 1992 and founded the Jimmy V Foundation in 1993 to support cancer research.
- His courage and gratitude in the face of a daunting diagnosis shows the power of positivity and joy for those fighting cancer.
The basketball coach was diagnosed with metastatic adrenal carcinoma in June 1992, and even in the final months of his life (he’d go on to live for another year), he stood toe-to-toe with this deadly disease.Read More
In July 1993, Valvano’s speech at the ESPY Awards has become a rallying cry not only for the need for more cancer research, but for all people, survivors or otherwise, to live life to the fullest, every single day. We dare you to watch below and not be inspired.
On this date 25 years ago, Jim Valvano imparted wisdom that has stood the test of time.
— ESPN (@espn) March 4, 2018
The Life and Legacy of Jim Valvano
Long before he inspired millions to help in the fight against cancer, Valvano was an accomplished college basketball coach, coaching six different teams over a 23-year career.
He rose to the national spotlight as the coach of NC State, leading an underdog team past 63 other teams to the championship, where they defeated the heavily favored Houston Cougars on a last-second buzzer beater.
He had been retired for two years when he was diagnosed with this form of glandular cancer, that already had spread throughout his body.
Valvano’s ten-minute speech at the ESPYs called for a greater national focus on cancer research, pointing out that, at the time, cancer research funding was only a tenth of the size of AIDS funding despite 500,000 people dying every year from cancer.
“Somehow, we seem to have put it in a little bit of the background,” Valvano said. “I want to bring it back on the front table.”
He then announced that, together with ESPN, he was founding the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.
“It may not save my life. It may save my children’s life. It may save someone you love.”
Valvano died less than two months after the speech. He was 47 years old.
To date, the Jimmy V Foundation has awarded more than $200 million in cancer research grants, supporting cutting-edge treatments and touching countless lives.
Living Your Best Life With Cancer
From diagnosis through his last days, Valvano never lost his trademark optimism and lust for life, an inspiration to others to look for ways to make every single day meaningful.
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No. 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.”
Valvano told his audience to laugh, cry, and think every single day, to take full advantage of the opportunity to feel strongly and think deeply.
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean the end. Millions of survivors have thrived in the face of challenging diagnoses, finding gratitude and joy in the things that make life worth it.
Having a positive outlook like Valvano’s benefits more than just the heart — it can actually help those battling cancer live longer.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview that he’s “pretty good at telling what kind of patients are going to live the longest, even with bad, bad disease. And those are patients who have gratitude in life.”
Valvano also never shied away from showing his emotional side, an aspect of himself he said “comes with the territory” of being Italian-American. He shared his thoughts and feelings with an audience of millions, always being willing to show the full range of emotions that cancer entails.
To the very end, Valvano stayed who he was: a lovable, loud, passionate warrior. And millions have benefitted from the advocacy and example he set with those iconic words that echo throughout the years. “Don’t give up… Don’t ever give up.”