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Associated Press photo by Mark Humphrey / Former Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan speaks after being presented with the first NCAA president's Pat Summitt Award on Jan. 19, 2017, in Nashville.

Unfortunately, Lamont Paris can far too easily recall the times cancer has directly touched his life.

"When I was young, I had an aunt who was in the Army and she had to start wearing a wig," the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach recalled this week. "She eventually beat it, but my high school coach did not."

Roger Renz died during Paris's junior year at Findlay (Ohio) High School. The school still awards the Roger Renz Memorial (College) Scholarship each year.

"He fought so hard," Paris said. "He'd come to practice every day with a special device that would amplify his voice because he was so weak. I've always thought that everybody is no more than one degree away from cancer."

Almost every college basketball coach in the Volunteer State — everyone from Penny Hardaway at Memphis to Jerry Stackhouse at Vanderbilt to Tennessee's Rick Barnes to new Belmont coach Casey Alexander to Paris — will gather at Nashville's Music City Center on Thursday night to honor former University of Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan with the Tennessee Coaches versus Cancer's inaugural Hardwood Hero award.

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Mark Wiedmer

As described in an American Cancer Society email, the award "goes to a recipient who exemplifies what it means to be a leader in the basketball community, all while going the extra mile for the American Cancer Society Mission. Joan's passion for her community, and the American Cancer Society is above and beyond."

Cronan's passion for pretty much everything is above and beyond. Her children. Her grandchildren. Women's basketball, which placed her in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame this summer. The Pat Summitt Foundation and its determined fight to end Alzheimer's. Women's athletics in general, which earned her the 2018 James J. Corbett Memorial Award, the highest honor one can achieve in collegiate athletics administration.

Whatever the endeavor, Cronan has always raised the bar.

But fighting and beating cancer has long been as personally painful for her as watching her dear friend Summitt lose her 42-month struggle with Alzheimer's.

"I lost my husband Tom to pancreatic cancer," Cronan said Wednesday. "My mother also died of cancer. When I think about battling cancer, I realize I've had too many friends who've had to struggle against it."

The closest of those friends was her beloved Tom, of course. Initially given six months to live, he fiercely fought it for 3 1/2 years.

"He had always been such an athlete," she said. "Tom had hiked the Appalachian Trail. He rode a bike all the way across the country. He was the healthiest man I've ever known."

Determined to inspire others after his diagnosis, he rode a motorcycle across the United States, stopping at all 44 locations for The Wellness Community, which provides education and support for cancer victims and those who care for them.

"Tom spoke to all 44 of them," she said. "In New York City, (Good Morning America's) Robin Roberts got on the back of his motorcycle and rode around with him. He wanted to go all the way to San Francisco and back, but when he got to California, I made him fly home."

Begun in 1993, Coaches versus Cancer has raised almost $100 million to fight the disease, an amount that has greatly helped funding for research and treatment. But the scars from those we've lost multiply daily.

"Are you using names in this story?" Paris asked.

Told yes, he wanted to mention his late friend Dan Peters, the former Youngstown State coach who lost his fight with cancer in 2014.

"He was a good man and a good friend," Paris said.

A good person and good friend too soon gone, much like the rest of the 9.6 million lives lost to cancer each year throughout the world.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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