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First Place
Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

1. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Holly Cain tells her story

The reality of my diagnosis as a cancer patient set in this summer during a rain delay at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. While race teams and fellow reporters scrambled to change travel plans and make dinner arrangements, I took a deep breath, looked around the emptying media center and remember distinctly feeling very alone with my secret.

Just before shutting down my computer to return to the hotel, I Googled "How to tell your children you have cancer." That was the moment when it all hit me.

I am one of those people that never catches a cold. And all of a sudden, after feeling a sizable lump in my breast three weeks earlier, I was caught up in a surreal whirlwind of mammograms and ultra sounds and biopsies and jaw-dropping bad news with every test and doctor visit.

In the midst of it all – a week before the Daytona race – I had asked my doctor to delay giving me some results by one day because I was scheduled to travel to the White House to cover NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson's meeting with President Obama. The doctor gave me a huge grin and conceded that was the best excuse he'd ever heard to postpone an appointment.

On Wednesday, July 2, the day before I left to cover the Daytona race, I received the full diagnosis. I had advanced stage breast cancer and faced an aggressive – honestly, frightening – treatment plan. But the scope, gravity and magnitude didn't immediately set in.

I didn't even cry. I didn't know what had hit me.

The understanding flooded in during that computer search in the Daytona media center, on what seemed an appropriately rainy summer afternoon. As everyone else was packing up their computers, their minds grappled with where they would eat dinner or if they could change a flight to accommodate the race postponement. Mine was on my family.
For me, the very thought of sharing my news with my precious 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son in the coming days was so gut-wrenching it made me physically ill. I felt so utterly guilty – and still do –of my diagnosis robbing them of their innocence and of the carefree days of childhood they deserved – a time when they shouldn't have to worry about their mom being sick. Or worse. I was supposed to worry about them, not the other way around.

As online resources and my doctors advised, I very calmly explained in simple, but appropriate and truthful terms, that doctors had found a tumor and that I would need a couple of operations. I explained that I would need special intense treatment called chemotherapy and that it would make me tired, extremely sick to my stomach and after a few weeks I would lose all my hair.

But, I promised and reassured – enough to convince myself – that, even as I wasn't feeling well physically in the next few months, I would still be their "mom" and that my spirit would stay strong. I swore I would get better. The apprehension and anxiety showed on the kids' faces, but they asked good, thoughtful questions. I could tell their minds were racing trying to make sense of it all.

And somehow, instead of this moment completely breaking my heart, my children reinforced my heart.

My son, always practical, wanted to know if I would lose my eyelashes and eyebrows because, he said, they served as a natural protection against raindrops. My daughter wanted to know if I would still be able to run in our local Susan G. Komen 5K. She and I had run the race together for years in honor and memory of dear friends suffering from breast cancer.

As it turns out, my friend and colleague at NASCAR.com, Kate Davis, organized "Holly's Hotties," a team of co-workers and friends (including some dear people I've yet to even meet) to run the Komen Race for the Cure earlier this month in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kate raised more than $3,000 for the cause thanks to the heartfelt generosity of so many at NASCAR.com and friends in the NASCAR community.

I still have two more rounds of chemotherapy remaining and I'm glad to report that my eyebrows and eyelashes are still mostly intact. And while they do keep the raindrops from falling in, they don't work as well keeping the tears from dropping out.

But the tears now aren't just due to fear and pain. They flow because every single day I am reminded how blessed I am. I genuinely feel that way.

Whenever doubt and anxiety creep up, I try to instead think of what I have to be grateful for and glancing at my "thank you" to-do list is overwhelming. I simply cannot keep up with the notes owed to so many.

Amazingly, I have yet to meet someone not affected by breast cancer on some level – a friend, a relative, a co-worker. It sounds cliché, but I find myself stopping to take in the beauty in each day. I don't sweat the small stuff. And as fellow cancer patient and fellow journalist Steve Byrnes of FOX Sports has reminded us all, you have to live in the present.

Byrnes – one of the first to call me and offer support – along with fellow cancer patients, such as former driver Shawna Robinson and Sherry Pollex (longtime girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr.), surely know what it is like to be surrounded by a NASCAR community that doesn't just care deeply, but gives generously and is committed to making a difference.

Clint Bowyer's sponsor 5-hour Energy, which allowed him to put my name on his No. 15 Toyota this month at Kansas, is donating at least $200,000 to Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Danica Patrick's sponsor, GoDaddy, also placed names (including mine) on her car last week at Martinsville, Virginia, and handed the National Breast Cancer Foundation a check for $50,000.

So many others have participated in the month-long push for breast cancer awareness. Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne are among those who have driven pink cars. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has used pink driving gloves. Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano have helped paint track walls and curbs pink.

And as Breast Cancer Awareness month wraps up this week, I wanted to share my own very personal story of diagnosis, treatment, hope and, most of all, gratitude.

Gratitude for a network of friends that have been bringing my family dinners, sending me cards and flowers, lovingly crafting chemotherapy "care baskets," handling soccer practice carpools.

And gratitude for an extended NASCAR family that has rallied around me in huge and humbling ways, from text messages, Twitter well-wishes and long phone calls of support. I am forever indebted for the smiles on my children's faces as I officially became the "coolest mom in the world" with my name on race cars representing the thousands others fighting to survive this pervasive disease.

Fortunately, there is another condition even more widespread – the spirit of kindness and generosity. Pass it on.