It’s been one year since Wendy Anderson, the wife of Arkansas State Head Football Coach, Blake Anderson, was diagnosed with cancer. It’s been quite a year since that moment. One in which there were the expected lows early in the process. However, the last year was dominated by the highs of the Andersons’ faith and the great news they experienced months later. This edition of the 5th Quarter was originally written and published during the 2017 football season via www.AStateNation.com
It’s a word nobody ever wants to hear. Cancer. But that’s the word Wendy Anderson’s doctor said to her and her husband, Blake Anderson. They found out in April and soon after that news began to travel a bit around Jonesboro. Nothing could prepare the Anderson’s for what happened with that news as people began to find out what they were going through. The community of Jonesboro wrapped its arms around their family like nothing they have ever experienced before in their lives. Once the news was known Coach Anderson had asked for prayers through it all and especially on the Monday when Wendy went in for surgery. A few days later those prayers were answered as they found out that after the surgery her cancer was undetectable. A true miracle.
The coaching life can sometimes put you in a bubble in the town you live in. That was not the case in Jonesboro, and it was not the case when the Arkansas State Red Wolves traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers in their first game. When they arrived at the stadium, they saw that the students had put up a banner in her honor. Not the Red Wolves’ students, but the Nebraska students. Wendy was overwhelmed by that show of support and really the support of people everywhere. So since there was no football to be played this past weekend, we felt like it was a perfect time to have a special edition of The 5th Quarter and speak with Wendy Anderson.
1st Quarter: What has the reaction and support from the Jonesboro community been like for you and your family once people began to learn about your diagnosis in the spring? – “Honestly, it’s been an overwhelming experience that is really hard to put into words. It’s just hard to explain other than to say I just felt the immense love from this community wherever I went. I think it’s one of those things that you don’t expect and when it happens you’re just filled with such strong appreciation that people care about you and your family. To be honest, I didn’t think people really knew who I was, which is fine by me because I usually prefer to be more in the background. Blake has such a public position in his job, but I tend to stay out of that spotlight. So when the response from the community started pouring in the attention wasn’t something I was used to at all. I mean, nobody wants to be thrust into the spotlight because they have cancer. It’s not something anybody wants to go through in their lifetime. And if I’m being honest again, I don’t think I ever really knew how many people are affected by cancer. Sometimes if it’s not staring you in the face you might not see it. I’ve met so many people who have told me their stories and given me such a different perspective through it all. But the power and emotion of the support the Jonesboro community has given me has been such a blessing and the word grateful doesn’t do justice to what I’ve felt the last few months. To know that there are people I don’t even know that are praying for me is amazing. Just beyond blessed to be a part of this community.”
2nd Quarter: How did you handle or learn to handle being in the spotlight now that your journey has become more public? – “I think it’s still a work in progress for me. I don’t think the shock of it all has completely worn off. First, the shock of the diagnosis stayed with me for a while. Being told you have cancer is not something you want to hear and that initial feeling stays with you because your life is forever changed at that moment. Then to see and feel the support of the community that I mentioned earlier was something unlike I had ever experienced before in my life. It’s always made our family’s life a little easier to stay behind the scenes and out of the public eye in a sense. When your husband is in the newspaper or on television every day you kind of like to keep part of your life anonymous. So when you lose that anonymity it can overwhelm you as a mother. But in this case you’re losing that anonymity for all the right reasons. You’re losing it because people want you to know they are there for you and praying for you. I think that’s what has made our experience here in Jonesboro so different from the moment we arrived here. The community has always been so supportive of Blake and they love their Red Wolves. It’s like we live in our own little world here in town where people are more positive and want to support each other in all walks of life. We’ve lived in other great communities but Jonesboro has been unique to me. We can go out in this community and feel loved, and that doesn’t always happen for head coaches in every football town across America(laughing). So I guess I’m saying that I’m not used to this spotlight but living here has made it easier to take in and embrace it.”
3rd Quarter: Describe the feeling you had when you got to the game in Nebraska and saw the out pouring of support there from the fans and the coaching staff there. – “It was a strange feeling initially. If it had been a home game that would be one thing. To see it on the road at an opposing school was just a surprise. I guess all of our years in football just condition you to expect and not expect certain things from opposing fan bases, especially one as passionate at the Nebraska fan base. I’ve never seen an opposing student body show support for anybody from an opposing team(laughing). I thought it was so refreshing and uplifting for the students to be considerate like that and put the time and effort into making that sign and putting it up before the game. It warmed my heart to see it. It was just a classy move by those students that I’ll never forget. When we got to the locker room there were letters and gifts of encouragement from Nebraska’s coaching staff and their wives. I was overwhelmed with emotions and speechless by their gesture. The coaching community is not big and can be a close-knit group but even still, to see that waiting for me was unbelievable. The whole experience in Lincoln was surreal. And you know, I don’t think it’s something that has completely sunk in because the outpouring of love and support hasn’t stopped. I mean coaches and coaches’ wives from across the country have reached out to us and prayed for us. Not just the coaches we know but guys we have never even worked with have reached out to us. Fans from schools we’ve worked at in the past and even from opposing schools have sent us words of encouragement. How do you process all of that? But our weekend in Lincoln is something I will never forget and the feeling they gave me is something I can never repay them enough for. It was the icing on the cake for that week and renewed my appreciation for being in this crazy world of coaching.”
4th Quarter: Part of that week was receiving the best news you could hope for after your surgery. What was that feeling like for you and Blake when you received that news? – “You know, Blake kind of manipulated that situation. He made sure the doctor called him first with any news coming out of the surgery. So when I got the call with the news I tried to call him to tell him. I figured he was at practice or busy with something like that with the team. But when I called him he was already on his way home to be with me. So he gets brownie points for making that such a great surprise. It was the news I was praying for and the news we wanted to hear. God is so good.”
Overtime: How has this experience changed you guys? – “I can’t speak for him but for me, it just changes the way you look at things. You literally have thoughts running through head about wondering if tomorrow is your last day. It makes you start to reprioritize everything in your life. I felt like through the years I may have been more of somebody that wanted to please everybody else. Now I needed to really learn how to say no and keep things in perspective of what’s really important and what is not important. It has also just left me grateful for everything and everybody in my life. I’m happy to wake up each and every day and see the people in my life that I love. For example, with Blake and the kids, did I really get to talk to them and be with them today? Especially our older two now that they’re out of the house. Before I may not call them because I didn’t want to bother them. Not anymore. If I want to call them I will call them and leave them a message to call me back(laughing). It’s like a reset on your life and you want to make sure everything you’re doing is worthy of that time. When your husband has such a time-demanding job it can different from a normal life as well. I’ve been a coach’s wife for so long that I’ve learned how to be on my own and do a lot of things on my own. You don’t plan on your husband being there and you’re surprised when he is there. When we decided to have surgery and when I was in Mexico, I didn’t expect him to be there. We never even really discussed him taking a leave of absence at all with all of this happening. I actually didn’t even try to plan any of this around his schedule at all. But he was there with me anyway and it was just so wonderful to be together. All of this has taught us to make sure all of the time we do get together is quality time. Nothing will be wasted because nothing is promised.”
You can feel the honesty that Wendy Anderson expressed in this interview. She held nothing back. That’s the approach the Anderson family used in confronting this challenge. They weren’t going to hold back. They were going to throw every ounce of their faith towards it, even in the face of great odds and even when there were those that said it was a mistake to do so. As Wendy said, they got the miracle they were hoping for and are ready for whatever comes their way down the road.
When Coach Anderson was asked what his greatest moments or memories have been so far in his career as a head coach, he didn’t hesitate. He responded, “Honestly, we’ve had some great wins and it’s been awesome to win the championships we have here. But the moment that stands out the most to me was after we got the news from Wendy’s doctor that she was clear. I walked into the meeting room to address the team. I couldn’t hold it back so I just went ahead and told them the news. I still can’t put in the words the eruption of emotion and jubilation that ensued in that room, in that moment, after I told the team about Wendy’s news. I get emotional still just talking about it. They way my guys rallied around Wendy, and then the way the rallied around me in that moment is something that I will never forget, nor will I forget to remember it time and time again to remind myself how lucky I am to be in the locker room with those guys.”