"Once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer."
That's more than just a slogan at Tuscola High--it's a way of life that includes looking after and taking care of their own, as Diana Cogdill Gates is finding out.
A talented photographer who has been shooting athletic events at her alma mater for years, Gates was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
A married mother of two who lives in Leicester, Gates has attacked the disease in her typical style--aggressively and positively, embracing the slogan "Losing is not an option!"
That's the message that will be printed on the backs of T-shirts that will be sold during the Pisgah at Tuscola volleyball match on Monday as part of the Pink Out festivities, which is part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.
Tuscola is using the event to honor Gates, who played basketball and softball for the Mountaineers.
"Diana is an amazing woman," said Tuscola volleyball coach Pam Bryant. "Just so outgoing and high-spirited, and a genuine woman."
"When breast cancer touches someone close to you, it really hits home. We are so glad we can do something for her, because she does so much for us and gives so much time to Tuscola athletics."
Bryant speaks from experience about cancer hitting home--last year's Pink Out game honored her mother.
Gates said she has been thrilled and touched by the outpouring of support from family and friends since her diagnosis, and to be honored by her high school is special.
"It's pretty cool that the team is doing this for me," said Gates, who has felt the love of Haywood County athletes before.
After word got out about her diagnosis this summer, players from the football and volleyball teams and the cheerleaders got together for a photo, forming a pink ribbon for Gates.
Coaches from those teams also posed for photos holding up signs of encouragement, and the Waynesville Middle School football team has adopted her.
They are wearing pink stickers on their helmet and every Wednesday they hold a team prayer for Gates.
“This has been overwhelming,” she said. “Part of the recovery is handling all this and accepting the news that you have this.
“I decided I could sit and whine about this, or I could continue the path I’ve been on, and continuing this path is hard. But it’s easier when you see the kind of love and support I’ve gotten.”
Gates has two chemotherapy treatments remaining in this cycle and then surgery later this year.
Then she faces radiation treatments and more chemo.
In addition to working as a photographer at Diana Gates Photography and raising a family, Gates also volunteers as a board member with the Asheville Tourists Children's Fund, and is the staff photographer for the WNC Sports Awards Banquet, which honors the area's top high school athletes.
Champion Credit Union is sponsoring T-shirts that will be sold at the game. Gates' slogan will be on the back, and the front will read "Rivals coming together for a cause."
Gates will be honored around 6 p.m., between the junior varsity and varsity matches.
The team is also accepting donations for the event. Contact Bryant at 828-226-9431.
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