JONESBORO -- Heads bowed across campus at a half-hour past noon.
In classrooms, cafeterias and study halls, the football players of Arkansas State University prayed Monday at the exact time the wife of their head coach was scheduled to undergo surgery for breast cancer.
Three floors above Centennial Bank Stadium, assistant head coach Trooper Taylor leaned his arms against his knees and extended the request to a roomful of reporters. Taylor had just explained that he was speaking in place of ASU Coach Blake Anderson, who missed the first of the team's weekly news conferences to be with his wife, Wendy, at a hospital near Memphis.
"Any prayers we can get from anybody else, they're all warranted," said Taylor, who played football with Anderson at Baylor from 1988-1989. "From A-State fans or not. We'd love for everybody just to take a minute and say a prayer for Ms. Wendy."
Blake Anderson said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in July that Wendy was diagnosed in April with triple-negative breast cancer, which is a subtype of breast cancer that does not have the three "receptors" that the most successful treatments target, according to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
Monday's surgery, Taylor said, was "a late development" and "something that was needed." At 4:55 p.m. Monday, Anderson tweeted that Wendy was "out of surgery & resting well. Doc was pleased w everything."
Anderson told the team he would return for practice this afternoon, and Athletic Director Terry Mohajir said "as far as I know right now, yes, he will be coaching the rest of the year."
"I know he's a football coach, but family is primary," Mohajir said. "Whatever he needs to do to take care of his family needs, we'll adjust to it as a program."
ASU will open the season at Nebraska on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Taylor will become a temporary head coach whenever Anderson needs to take more time.
"The best way that we can honor [Wendy] and honor [Blake] is to make sure we don't dip below [our] standard, and I can promise you as an assistant head coach, it won't happen -- not on my watch," said Taylor, who also coaches running backs. "We're not going to let that happen. We're going to go out there, go to work, we're going to take what God gives us, and we're going to trust in him."
Wendy Anderson found the lump while applying aloe vera on a sunburn that flared up after she took a spring break trip to the beach with her daughter, Callie.
"She went to the doctor, and we really weren't expecting it to be much," Blake Anderson said in July. "And it just seemed like every time we turned around, the news was worse."
Wendy studied her options and decided to spend six weeks at a clinic in Baja California, Mexico, going through a six-day-a-week process to boost her immune system that was a more "nutritional, holistic approach other than what you get here in the United States," Blake said.
She returned in June and continued to visit a doctor in the West Cancer Center in Germantown, Tenn.
Triple-negative breast cancer occurs in about 10 percent to 20 percent of breast cancer cases -- according to BreastCancer.org, a nonprofit organization that provides information about breast cancer -- and a 2007 study found that 77 percent of women with triple-negative breast cancer survived at least five years vs. 93 percent of women with other types of breast cancer.
"We're just trusting we're with the right people and God's got us in the right place," Blake said. "It's not a great diagnosis, and it's not one that has tremendous results. But people have beat it, and she's a fighter."
He told the ASU coaching staff about the diagnosis in the spring, and he told the players during the first team meeting of preseason camp.
"We prayed together and we cried together as a group," Taylor said. "Then we all buckled up our shoes and strapped them up and said we're going to help him fight this fight."
Much of the football routine, Taylor said, went unchanged.
Doctor appointments were scheduled on the team's recovery days, and after several practices, the players would find Wendy sitting on the wall at the stadium and hug her.
When Wendy was going through treatment, the coaching staff's wives would help make sure the Andersons' three kids were fed and had rides to school.
On Wendy's birthday, Aug. 15, the team held a party next to the stadium, complete with a slip-and-slide and sugarless cake.
"The support is so great," Blake said. "We're fortunate."
After the Andersons steadily revealed the diagnosis to those they knew, Wendy spoke to women who attended ASU's "Helmets and Heels" event July 27.
"We know that God is going to work something special out," Taylor said. "This is going to be a platform that's going to allow her to be a great witness for the fight against cancer, and we really believe that."
Sports on 08/29/2017