Unconditional Love

By Bonitta Best
Updated: January 31, 2009

DURHAM, N.C. — Robert Massey will never forget the day his world stopped. It was the summer of 2006. Massey, a football coach at Livingstone College in Salisbury, was driving home to Durham when he got a call from his mother-in-law.

A red flag immediately went up since his mother-in-law rarely called him during the day. Then he found out why. His college sweetheart, the love of his life, the mother of his three children, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

CRASH! That was the sound of his world falling apart.
“At the time it devastated me. I pulled over the side of the road and broke down because, unfortunately, when you think of cancer, you think that nothing good will come out of it,” said Massey, now an assistant coach at Shaw.
“You don’t assume anything bad is going to happen to you, and we never thought that it would happen to her.”
Breast cancer comes in five stages, with Stage 0 being the least deadly and Stage IV the most. Adrian Massey was diagnosed with Stage III cancer.
Although men can contract the disease too, a la Richard Roundtree — the original Shaft — women are the most affected. For the men, it’s heartbreaking and frustrating to watch the person they love the most suffer and not be able to do a darn thing about it.
This is their side of the story.
For Adrienne Massey, it began as a lump on her chest. A biopsy confirmed the worst – not only did she have cancer in her breast, but her lymph nodes as well.
After several surgeries and chemotherapy, Adrian is in remission but more surgery looms. “It’s an ongoing battle and then to hear how [N.C. State women's coach] Kay Yow fought it for a couple of decades, it’s still scary,” Robert Massey said.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, white women are more likely to get breast cancer, but the death rate for black women is higher. They also are diagnosed at a younger age and in a more advanced stage.
The reasons range from a lack of health insurance to fear of the unknown to fear of pain from the mammogram, etc. They sound more like excuses than reasons because local clinics give free mammogram tests, not visiting the doctor won’t make the disease go away, and mammogram pain is minute compared to chemotherapy and radiation side effects.
To make matters worse, according to Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor, black women would rather forego breast cancer treatment than risk losing their hair. You read it right: They’d rather die with a full head of hair than live with a wig.
I don’t get it. Black women get weaves all the time, so what’s a weave if not half a wig? It’s all fake. “Adrienne didn’t have no problem,” said Massey, an NFL Pro Bowler and N.C. Central alum. “Once she saw it coming out, she cut her own hair.”
“And we took a lot of pictures when her hair was short; she looked great with it and now she’s growing her hair back. She didn’t miss a beat. Her faith is strong. She’s tackled this thing head-on.”
Not every breast cancer survivor is willing to go public like Roberts and Yow, who died last week after a courageous battle. But their outspokenness, Massey said, is what’s needed to help more women, especially young black women, get up the courage to get checked.
“You don’t want to burden other people with that problem, but at the same time, if you’re in the public life like Kay was, it helps to bring awareness. Hopefully, there are some survivors years from now as a result of what Kay’s been through,” he said.
Massey said he knows that he can’t take Adrienne’s treatment for her, nor can he take away the pain that only she can feel. But what he can do is be there for her as much as possible. Since her diagnosis, he’s declined other coaching opportunities in other cities.
And he can love her unconditionally – “in sickness and in health.” That’s the best medicine of all. “She’s still that beautiful woman I first met,” Massey said. “I’ve never neglected her or stopped loving her, and I’m not going to because I married more than just a beautiful face; I married a beautiful person — inside and out.”
“I’m not going to stop showing her that.”