Cameron Indoor’s angel: Michelle Stotesbury

“You could write a story about all the people who man the different entrances, or portals. They’ve done it forever and they’re beautiful stories for beautiful people.”—Mike Krzyzewski

In October, as part of a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Real Men Wear Pink campaign against breast cancer, I did a series of features on people in sports who had been impacted by cancer. It included current and former players, coaches, the famous and the little known. I tried to make sure that each school and professional team had some representation.

That’s why I reached out to Michelle Stotesbury, who has worked security at Cameron Indoor Stadium for more than a decade. I told her that, if she was willing, I’d like her to be my “Duke person.” I assured her that, since I already knew her story, it wouldn’t take much effort on her part, maybe just a couple of questions to clarify details.

“I have a scan in two days,” she replied. “Let’s hold off until we see what it shows.”

That’s the last I heard from her.


I met Michelle in August 1989, at the start of our freshman year at UNC. I had a crush on her roommate.

As is the case in freshman dorms, I got to know her simply because she was always around while I was (unsuccessfully) running my game with her roommate. We ate together in the dining hall. We drank together on weekends. I was from New York, and she would relentlessly mock my unfamiliarity with the South in an accent dripping with sweet tea and vinegar-based barbeque sauce.

She was tiny and bright, with strawberry blonde hair, glasses and a laugh that bubbled out of her. She always reminded me of a Peanuts character. Except most of the characters in Peanuts were cranky or mean. She may have looked like Sally or Marcie, but she had the spirit of Snoopy.

But she also had a sass about her and never suffered fools, which, often in those days (and, truth be told, ever since) often included me.

Michelle majored in Media & Communications, which, back then, was called Radio, Television and Motion Pictures. She was constantly dragging her roommate and me to movies as soon as they opened—not the blockbuster ones with the fast food tie ins … the obscure, artsy ones that I probably never would have seen otherwise.

I saw Batman, Lethal Weapon and Die Hard with a girlfriend. I saw the Fisher King and Frankie & Johnny in groups that Michelle organized.

We drifted apart a bit as college went on. I had other crushes and she had other roommates. But if either of us needed something, we knew who to call first.

When I was applying for grad school and needed a ride to Raleigh early one Saturday morning to take the GREs, Michelle drove me. I’d been up most of the night before, worrying about the test and unable to sleep. Once the test was over, I was ready to crash, but Michelle had other plans. They’d just re-released Fantasia, and what better way to decompress from my stressful morning? We’ve never discussed what happened that afternoon, but I suspect she never forgave me for falling asleep during Fantasia … not because I disrespected her, but because I disrespected such a classic film.

When she made a film for her final project in a course, I was her actor. I don’t remember my lines or much about the script. But I do remember that she was in charge on the set. She made sure that wouldn’t be forgotten.

I’m not sure why she never became Quentin Tarantino. We fell out of touch for a long time after graduation, until Twitter and Duke basketball brought us back together.

I know she lived in Miami for awhile. We went out for lunch when I covered the Orange Bowl one year. And when she relocated to the Triangle full time, we would meet for coffees and the occasional movie (of course).

She took me to the only pig pickin’ I’ve ever attended … and reveled in my culture shock.

She traveled to the Final Four every year as a fan. She would buy the cheapest tickets she could find, at the top of the stadium, then search Stub Hub once she arrived at the arena to find seats in the lower level … not to buy, to squat.

“If they’re still for sale at this point, then no one will be sitting in them,” she reasoned.

The years I was at the Final Four working, I would be sure to carve out time to spend with her. We went to a Pacers game on a Final Four off day in 2015. She then climbed through a hole in a fence to get into a sold-out Zac Brown Band concert. That’s where we parted ways.

At the Houston Final Four, we both got into the off-day concert legally. I remember sitting with her drinking beers and listening to Fall Out Boy.

Mostly, though, we’d see each other at Duke games. I’d be sure to fist bump her at least once a game, either when I walked onto the court, or, if she was busy then, I’d find her when I walked off after the game.

A few years ago, she fell and broke a bone. I want to say it was in her hip, but it might have been her leg. This is one of those details I was going to run by her. While they were treating that, they discovered the cancer. She referred to it as her “lucky break,” because who knew when they’d have detected it if not for that.

I covered the MLB All-Star Game in 2019. Each year, they take a moment mid-game to hold a special “Stand Up To Cancer” ceremony. Everyone in the stadium, from fans to players to umpires to media, fills out a placard with the name of a loved one who has battled or succumbed to cancer.

“I stand up for Michelle” read mine.

I sent her a photo of my sign and she immediately scolded me for “trying to make me cry at work.” That whole not suffering fools thing again. The sign has been in my writing bag ever since, and all that time, I’ve been standing up for her.


I wrote to her on the day of her scan and said, “Good luck today.”

She didn’t respond.

I knew what that meant. Several months earlier, she’d stopped using the #LuckyBreak hashtag with her cancer treatment tweets, replacing it with #Stage4WonderWoman. Stage 4 was no lucky break.

A few weeks after the scan I never heard about, I covered a Duke preseason exhibition game. I wasn’t sure if she would be there, but she was, in her usual spot. She didn’t have any hair, but the glasses and smile were still there, and she looked even more like someone from Peanuts.

I walked to courtside, and she held up her fist.

I didn’t hold up mine.

“Can I give you a hug?” I asked.

She gave me an exasperated look. It was a stupid question. But she suffered me one last time.

“Of course you can,” she said.


Cancer is something that will touch everyone’s life at some point. For those of us fortunate not to get a diagnosis or a scare, there are friends and relatives who won’t be so fortunate. Shawn Krest has been chosen by the American Cancer Society as one of the Real Men Wear Pink ambassadors for October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout October, he’ll be telling a story of how cancer has touched someone on one of the teams we root for. It could be a coach, a player, a retired legend or an arena worker. The disease doesn’t care how successful you are, how much money you have or, as we see in today’s post, how much you were loved.  To join in the fight against breast cancer, you can visit Shawn’s American Cancer Society page.

Previous stories in the series include the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stelio Mattheos, Ron Rivera, Brian Piccolo, Brett Butler, Quincy Monk, Anthony Rizzo, Jon Lester, Carlos Carrasco, Daniel Norris, Trey Mancini, Jameson Taillon, Eric Davis, Chad Bettis, Tatiana Suarez and Edna Campbell. To donate to the American Cancer Society’s fight against cancer, visit the Real Men Wear Pink campaign page.