It was on Columbus Day 24 years ago that Jan Kuhn, then 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her boys were 2 and 4 at the time, and Kuhn started running to combat the side effects of chemotherapy.
After six months of chemo and six weeks of radiation to keep the cancer at bay, it came back less than a year and a half later. And over the next seven years, the mom of two young boys would undergo seven surgeries, including a bilateral mastectomy.
On Monday before the Carolina Panthers faced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kuhn, now 61, cancer-free and donning a black Panthers sweatshirt and pink fingernail polish, walloped the 6-foot ceremonial “Keep Pounding” drum, kicking off the team’s “Crucial Catch” night intended to encourage early detection of breast cancer.
Bank of America Stadium was covered with traces of pink, from the players’ cleats, wristbands and gloves to the goalpost padding in the end zones to the cheerleaders’ pom poms to a pink coin used in the coin toss. The NFL sanctions pink apparel during weeks 5-7 of the season, depending on the team’s schedule.
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Breast cancer awareness is a cause close to at least a few current Panthers, including tight end Greg Olsen, whose mother is a survivor, and safety Kurt Coleman, whose father is a breast cancer survivor.
Over the weekend, the NFL debuted a video ad featuring Olsen, who takes over babysitting duties for a mom who runs out to get a breast cancer screening.
“My mom, being a breast cancer survivor, this hits close to home,” Olsen said.
“This means a lot to my family, and the experience I went through in high school. It’s great that the NFL uses their platform for such a good cause.”
And it was running back DeAngelo Williams who in 2009 started working with the NFL to “turn it pink” during the month of October. Williams, who was released by the Panthers in 2014 and currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, lost his mother and four aunts to breast cancer. He remains a vocal advocate for early detection.
As part of the Crucial Catch effort, the Panthers will be in Spartanburg Oct. 25 to recognize a $50,000 gift from the NFL and the American Cancer Society to an upstate South Carolina healthcare provider to help provide mammograms to underinsured women, according to community relations director Riley Fields.
Kuhn, the local breast cancer survivor, is an ambassador with Susan G. Komen in Charlotte, meaning she’s one of the faces of the organization that focuses on community outreach and education. She was nominated by the nonprofit to pound the Panthers’ ceremonial drum earlier this year.
Kuhn was the first breast cancer survivor from Charlotte to finish the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure when it started about 20 years ago. Kuhn had started running early into her treatment to build strength.
Since 2009, Kuhn’s also been involved with dragon boat racing, which involves 22 other women, most cancer survivors, racing in a 40-foot canoe, much like crew. Kuhn credits the boating with helping alleviate her lymphedema, a swelling of the arms and legs.
“Most people don’t even know I have it,” Kuhn said Monday, flexing before she picked up the giant mallet to beat the drum.