MADISON, Wis. -

It was the coming together of a program to raise awareness and funding for cancer research and a student who returned to Edgewood College to teach a lesson.

“Unite To Fight” is a program created to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Proceeds from fundraising basketball games and T-shirt sales will be donated to the organization.

But along the way, Edgewood College students and faculty learned a lesson from a former student who for the last 10 years was one credit shy of graduating.

Jim Gainey left Edgewood 10 years ago for a good job with intentions of returning to get that last credit and his diploma. A busy life prevented that from happening.

One year ago, Gainey’s life took a turn when doctors diagnosed him with stage four colon cancer. The last year has been focused on medical treatments, but also on living.

“You don’t have to decide it to be a death sentence. You have to decide that this is not going to define you. I’ve always wanted to remain me. It defines moments, but it doesn’t define me,” Gainey said.

When he learned about Edgewood College’s plans for “Unite To Fight,” he contacted the school and asked if his story might help provide insights into cancer and its impact on his family. He and his wife did a lengthy interview published by the school. It was then that the school decided Jim’s involvement merited one credit for community service.

Between the basketball games, Gainey was presented with his diploma.

“It was so amazing to be out there with my wife and my boys and to see my family out there, to see my mom who I promised I would get this degree 10 years ago and to see everybody there today was just amazing. It was a great day,” Gainey said.