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Former UA athletics boss talks about her cancer journey

Posted: 10:22 AM, Oct 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-15 23:04:22-04
rocky la rose.JPG

TUCSON, Ariz. - There's no question Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose has lived an incredible life. Her name is synonymous with Arizona Athletics -- helping to shape the program by closing gender gaps.

Rocky is retired now, but her journey took a frightening turn years ago that changed her life forever.

She has always had a fascination with bears and a passion for photography. "This is the momma bear I followed last year. They say never look in the eyes of a grizzy. But .."

That didn't stop Rocky LaRose. It's not the first time she has stared death in the face. In 2002, she encountered an equally fearsome and often fatal foe - cancer.

"It's one of those moments you'll never forget," she said.

On her way to an early morning meeting her doctor called her cell phone a week after getting a biopsy. She pulled her car over.

"And my doctor said it's cancer - and I just sat there and the traffic is blowing by and my first thought was gratitude. It wasn't about the diagnosis. It was about the great life I lived up to that point," she said.

Rocky thought this day could come. She knew all the risks because cancer runs in her family. She knew the importance of early detection. It's why she always self-examined. A good thing because he discovered the breast cancer herself.

"My mammogram was negative even though I had a 2-centimeter tumor. I bordered on Stage 1 and 2 so fortunately it was early," she said.

Doctors attacked her cancer with a vengeance - the course of action determined quickly. "I felt good. There was hope. You know with tested and true treatments you were just going to move forward. When you're a cancer survivor, your heroes change," she said.

Her family and friends supplied her with the support and humor she needed. Her husband shaved his hair as she began losing hers while her medical "heroes" took care of everything else.

"Your oncologist, your radiologist, your surgeons or the amazing researchers who are on the front lines. They are the ones really making this possible for us to still be here," she said.

Rocky has become a statistic no one wants to be a part of. She says the numbers are important for awareness. "But you also need to understand there are people behind the statistics -- that each individual has their own individual journey and there are so many different kind of breast cancers," she said.

She's thrilled about the work the American Cancer Society has done to fight cancer. Impressive progress in treatments has been made. More people who get cancer are living longer. Some are cured. "You always say to yourself you just want to stay alive until the next treatment advancement because they're coming. There's one down the road. That's your goal," she said.

Just happy to be alive, Rocky will continue to look down the road while she also searches for that next bear --- a grizzly or polar -- to photograph.

"It's just been such a joy in my life. I just love it. It's just something you can't turn off," she said.