Dwight Powell had returned to his mother’s home in Boston from Toronto, where he worked out for the Canadian National Team.
Less than a week later, Powell’s life turned upside down when his mother, Jacqueline Weir, suddenly died following a short bout with breast cancer at age 53. Powell’s mother hid the fact she was sick from him.
“She just didn’t tell me,” said Powell, who is entering his second season with the Dallas Mavericks. “She wanted me to focus on what I was doing and not worry.
“I don’t think she realized the severity of the situation that she was in.”
Breast cancer had spread to Weir’s liver, and she succumbed to the disease on Sept. 13, 2012.
At the time, Powell had just started his junior season at Stanford. Coping with such a devastating loss was numbing.
But the NCAA allowed Stanford to pay for the expenses to fly some of Powell’s teammates and coaches from California to Toronto for his mom’s funeral. The support was very meaningful to Powell, whose parents were never married and who was his mother’s only child.
“Obviously, those guys are like my family, and they still are,” Powell said. “I talk to a lot of those guys on a daily basis, and to the coaches, too, so to have them there was important, for sure.
“I’m definitely very grateful that they had an opportunity to come out.”
It meant a lot to Powell during his grieving period.
“Definitely, that was the hardest thing I’ve faced so far in my life,” Powell said of his mom’s death. “But my teammates were around me — my teammates and coaches.
“They didn’t let me get too down.”
Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this is when Powell is mostly reminded of his loss.
“Obviously, it’s a big deal to me,” Powell said, “having been touched by cancer like so many people have in the world.”
Meanwhile, the second annual Mavericks Breast Health Awareness Night will be Friday when the team faces the Atlanta Hawks at 7:30 p.m.
Powell’s loyalty to his mother has had a strong impact on one lifelong Mavericks fan. Vicki Metcalfe has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and has been touched by Powell’s journey.
“It’s one thing to see athletes wearing pink at games,” said Metcalfe, who lives in Midlothian. “It’s another to know Dwight’s walked this exact heartbreaking journey, too.
“By sharing his mother’s story, he brings awareness in ways others simply cannot.”
Metcalfe’s cancer odyssey is similar to Weir’s. At age 54, Metcalfe was diagnosed with breast cancer before it unknowingly spread to her lungs and bones.
“I thought everything was fine and that I was healed,” she said. “I was completely unaware of the severity.”
Last year a mutual friend noticed the connection between Powell and Metcalfe and formally introduced them. For more than 20 years, Metcalfe never missed a Mavs game until last season when the breast cancer moved to her bones and paralyzed her right side.
Metcalfe spent seven months at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. During rehab she would wear a Mavericks jersey over her hospital gown. Two months ago she learned her breast cancer was incurable.
“I was at my lowest point when a gift arrived a few days later,” Metcalfe said. “I had just started chemotherapy in hopes of prolonging my life a little longer.
“Inside was a Mavericks shooting shirt from the NBA Summer League.”
The gift was from Dwight Powell. Across the top Powell wrote: “Queen V: the Mavs are glad to have their #1 fan back. #MFFL.”
Metcalfe will attend Friday’s game. And she more than likely will meet up with Powell, who is grateful when he sees NFL and NBA players, coaches, cheerleaders, etc., wearing pink during games this month.
“I think there’s already a lot of awareness because it touches so many people, but to see people that a lot of people in this country look up to taking the time and the effort to bring even more awareness to such an important cause, I think it kind of sparks stuff in people that when they see it they want to help out, too,” Powell said. “So I think it’s really important.”
Following his mother’s funeral, Powell appreciated how Cardinals coach Johnny Dawkins treated him.
“Early on he told me whatever I needed he was there, and not to second-guess coming to talk to him,” Powell said. “And after that conversation it was all work.
“He didn’t treat me any differently, and I really appreciated that and respect him for that because the last thing you want in those situations is for people to constantly be feeling bad for you and kind of rehashing old wounds. He made it very clear that he was there if I needed anything, but he also kind of treated me the same as he treated me before and the same as he treated everybody else, which is focus on getting better, focus on the task at hand, focus on graduating, and I’m grateful for that.”
Metcalfe, too, is grateful that she met Powell and was able to hear his story.
“Behind all the survivorship celebration, we often forget how painful breast cancer awareness month can be for those who lost a love one,” Metcalfe said. “Not all of us survive, and we sometimes feel forgotten.
“That’s why Dwight is so important to the league and cause. His mom puts a face to breast cancer and suddenly we feel like someone understands.”
Powell and Metcalfe certainly understand.
“Dwight is unique because he doesn’t hide from his story, rather he chooses to honor his mother’s legacy by touching others like me,” Metcalfe said. “Jacqueline Weir’s life was not defined just by cancer.”
Weir’s best advice to Powell was to get out and work hard for what he wanted.
“She didn’t have an easy upbringing. She had to do a lot of things on her own and she didn’t have a formal university education. She worked in a bank,” Powell said. “So for her to get to the position that she was — she was vice president of internal audit for a bank in New York — without a formal university degree, it took countless hours of night school, spending time figuring out exactly what she needed to do to learn her craft perfectly so there was no excuse for her to be fired or demoted.
“She said if you want something there’s nothing that can stop you from getting it other than your own decisions. A few of the things that we talked about are kind of in the works now, so hopefully she’s looking down and smiling.”