Kim Cox lit up the room.
Dressed in pink from head to toe, she stepped to the podium earlier this week to address Falcons players and breast cancer survivors at the sixth annual Dazzle & Dine event and left the room in tears when her impactful words came to a finish.
A year ago, she wasn't sure she'd be in this position — a breast cancer survivor instead of a breast cancer patient, or even worse, with a lesson and seemingly a lifetime of knowledge and inspiration to share. When she spoke into the microphone with a voice of strength, full of life about something that she knew could have ended it, the room hung with ears gripped on every word:
"Breast cancer also taught me ... that my strength and your strength, and your strength, and your strength, is really revealed in the struggle. Who and what you're capable of is revealed when you're forced to step up to the plate, when there's no option but to decide by default or choice that I can do this. I will do this. And given the circumstances of tonight, I did this. I'm here. I'm alive. I'm dazzled. I'm dining. I'm smiling. I'm having a great time — all of that. It's a testament to who you are as a person and what you're capable of when you're connected to your strength."
That strength for Cox was her family. Her strength was the 23 people that took up most of the waiting room chairs in the hospital, playing cards and listening to gospel music, while she underwent a 14-hour double mastectomy last December. Her strength was the then-4-year-old daughter that she didn't want to have raised by just her father. Her strength was the frightened former NFL linebacker who was continuing to establish himself as a position coach in the league, at the time with Tampa Bay.
Now with the Falcons as the defensive line coach, Bryan Cox remembers strongly going through the tough and uncertain months as Kim Cox's prognosis was determined by her doctors. A man who earned a reputation on HBO's Hard Knocks this summer as a tough, hard-nosed, old-fashioned football coach, Bryan Cox was absolutely terrified by what breast cancer could possibly do to his wife and family.
"It was the scariest thing I've ever been through as a male," Bryan Cox said Friday. "I'm not scared of much — I was afraid of that. When you're 46 and your wife comes home and says, 'If something happens to me, I don't want you raising our 5-year-old (alone)' — that's a scary thought."
The phone call received on Oct. 22, 2013 at exactly 12:47 p.m. brought Kim Cox to her knees and shook the foundation of the family.
Bryan Cox received a call shortly after, with Kim Cox on the other end, asking to meet him in a parking lot. He knew it wouldn't be good, but he couldn't bring himself to face the realization until the words came out of her mouth.
Kim Cox's tears hit the asphalt of that parking lot as she hold her husband that she had been dignosed with breast cancer, something that had been spotted during her annual mammogram. The initial reaction was panic.
How did this happen? What happens next? What if...? Bryan Cox did what he always does when life presents challenging situations — he called his former coach, Bill Parcells, for a dose of knowledge and perspective.
Parcells has been a compassionate ear Bryan Cox has been able to turn to, and while the former NFL linebacker drew plenty of strength from his wife, the conversation with Parcells helped Bryan Cox understand his role in her battle.
"He said to me, he said, 'Bryan, you've been a leader your whole life. Approach this like you're going into the fourth quarter of a game. You've got to stand up tall and be a man,' " Bryan Cox said. "He gave me the little pep talk and that was good — I needed that. Then, it allowed me to share my story with friends and to just talk about it for support."
It's not even a year since the diagnosis and life has changed so much for Bryan and Kim Cox. For one, Kim Cox went through the trials and tribulations of becoming a survivor, now completely cancer-free. On the other side of the spectrum, more tragedy as Bryan Cox's father passed away after a battle with prostate cancer just last week. While Kim Cox promised that these battles would not define their family, it has changed the way they approach everyday life.
Five breast cancer survivors were nominated by their friends and family to receive make-overs and have dinner with Atlanta Falcons players as part of the annual Dazzle and Dine event.
Speaking to fellow survivors this week, Kim Cox said that every day, she takes what she calls "a picture of love" — that is, a mental snapshot of different moments throughout the day that remind her of what love is.
For Bryan Cox, this experience has given him perspective, both in the game of life and in the game of football. Losses don't hurt as much as they used to. When things go a different way than he envisioned, it's OK, because Kim Cox has her health.
As survivors, it's caused them take on a greater cause, and that is taking advantage of the NFL's commitment to breast cancer awareness every October as a chance to tell their story and change lives as a result, using that same strength through all the fear and uncertainty to inspire others.
"She is a breast cancer survivor," Bryan Cox said. "We are breast cancer survivors."