This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Provo • When BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins wrote a letter to legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski a few weeks ago asking for a pair of tickets to the Feb. 9 Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, he figured he wouldn't even get a response back, let alone the tickets.
Boy, was he wrong.
Once the folks at Duke read about the plight of former BYU women's basketball star Melanie Pearson Day, and how the Lehi mother of three had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and has less than five years to live, and how attending a Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron is one of her dying wishes, they were happy to oblige.
"Coach K's secretary called me on the phone and said, 'Hey, we got your letter. We were in tears reading it. We want to do it for her,'" Judkins said.
So the 38-year-old Day and her husband, Preston, an attorney in the Salt Lake City Prosecutor's Office, will make the trip to Durham, N.C., next month to watch Tar Heels and Blue Devils battle.
"I'm still in shock," Day said Monday. "When I put that game on my bucket list, it was more of a joke than anything, because no one gets to go to that game. It is impossible to get tickets, because the seating is so limited. … I would rather go to that game than any Final Four, any championship game, anything, and especially at Cameron Indoor."
Not only that, BYU's men's and women's basketball players and coaching staffs all donated money to pay for the airfare, lodging, travel expenses and rental car for the three-day trip back East.
"It is unbelievable, the support they have given me, a player who was only at BYU for one season," said Day. "I am especially impressed that the players would give of their own money when they are poor college students without normal jobs."
After playing for Judkins and BYU in 2001-02 when she was known as Melanie Pearson, Day was an assistant coach at UNLV from 2004-07 before starting a family that now includes 6-year-old Allison, 4-year-old Marley and 3-year-old Fletcher.
After originally being diagnosed with cancer in 2013 and then declared cancer-free in 2014, she learned the disease had returned two years ago and was diagnosed as metastatic, or Stage IV, breast cancer, and had spread to other organs in her body.
"It can be treated and they will prolong my life as long as they can, but they won't be able to cure it," she said. "My goal now is to live my life to the fullest while I'm still here."
Day started a blog at fiveyearstolive.org to detail her journey, which is where BYU officials learned of her ordeal, saw her bucket list, and went to work on the Duke tickets. Coincidentally, Melanie Pearson few up in Southern California but became a Duke fan after watching the Blue Devils upset UNLV 79-77 in the 1991 national semifinals.
Her future husband grew up in Las Vegas and was a huge UNLV fan, but developed a dislike for Duke after that particular game. The previous year, 1990, UNLV demolished Duke 103-73 to win the national championship.
Wanting to be closer to family members who could help the couple raise their three children, and doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, the family moved from the Lake Tahoe area to Lehi last July, and Day has attended almost every BYU game since then.
It was at a Jan. 5 women's game against Saint Mary's in the Marriott Center that Judkins brought her into the locker room after the victory and told her about the tickets and how enough money had been raised to send her and Preston back to North Carolina. Preston Day was in on the secret and Melanie figured something was up because he took out his phone and began filming, something he rarely does.
"She was pretty emotional," Judkins said. "She didn't know it was coming, so it was pretty cool. … It was just a real team effort with Dave's team and my team and all the assistant coaches. And what a great person to do it for. She only has so much time, and the way she wants to live her life, and how she has handled it, has been a great example for all of us."
BYU basketball fans know that Rose has also battled cancer, having been diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor cancer in 2009. Rose's daughter, Chanel Rose Reichner, played on the same 2001-02 team as Day and once heard her former teammate say that she wished she still had a jersey from that season.
With the jersey having been auctioned off years ago, the Roses and BYU equipment manager Steve Bushman had Day's jersey remade and then framed it for her along with some other memorabilia from that season.
"One of the messages I want people to know is what BYU are doing for me, and what Coach K and Duke are doing for me, and that there is so much goodness in the world," Day said. "It has been a wonderful experience."
One that will get even better on Feb. 9.
Melanie Pearson Day
• Mother of three was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer two years ago and given 2-5 years to live.
• Played for BYU in 2001-02 after a church mission to Portugal.
• Transferred from UCLA after helping the Bruins get to the NCAA West Regional Final in 1999.
• Worked as an assistant coach at UNLV from 2004-07.