Across the Midland stage they walked, champion after champion, stopping beside their designated collegiate coach.
Bill Self of KU, Kim Anderson with MU, Kareem Richardson of UMKC, Bruce Weber of K-State. NBC’s Bob Costas announced, telling a bit of the history of each participant.
And then the heroes were ushered off the stage.
After all, Tuesday night’s Coaches vs. Cancer Season Tipoff Event was a fundraiser. And the basketball coaches, along with the loyalty their universities and teams draw, were the main event. Costas proceeded to moderate the chitchat among the coaches.
For some of us in the audience, there was a “hey, wait a minute” moment. This was the first year that each coach was paired with a local person who had been diagnosed with cancer. And their stories, even in the synopsis forms Costas read, were riveting. Those brave people could hold their own panel.
Want to talk about greatest victories, the drama of a defeat? Going up against cancer is a more strenuous adversary than anything any athlete will ever face on a court, track or field. Inherently, we all know this. But Tuesday night was a kick-upside-the-head reminder.
Organizers purposely shunned the moniker “survivor.” They would be called “cancer champions” instead. Good call.
Brendon Allen is great-grandson of legendary KU coach Phog Allen. He lives in Lawrence. But in his late 20s, Allen was living in Australia and was repeatedly told that the pain in his ankle was a tendon pull. It wasn’t. More tests in the U.S. showed osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer. He had chemotherapy for nine months and part of his right leg amputated. Now he’s a father of two daughters, cancer-free for a decade and involved with a foundation that provides prosthetics to bone cancer patients who can’t otherwise afford them.
Lynne Elder was diagnosed in 2007 with carcinoid, a rare form of cancer. There are few treatments available and it’s considered incurable after the cancer has metastasized. Elder’s has metastasized. But she’s had surgeries to remove the vast majority of the cancer. Annual scans and quarterly blood work check for new tumors and injections slow the progression. Elder is hopeful for a cure with more research and awareness, which is exactly what she helped make happen by standing up on that stage.
Liz Maday found a lump during a self breast exam in May 2014. Her husband, Greg Maday, a Sporting Kansas City owner, pushed her to get a 3-D mammogram. The lump proved to be benign, but the further screening detected early stage bilateral breast cancer. She underwent double lumpectomies and 19 rounds of radiation treatment. She’s now cancer-free, although still on oral medication.
Ed Streich heard these words from a doctor: “You need to get your house in order because there is nothing that can be done for your form of cancer.” That was March 2005. The chief academic officer of the Shawnee Mission School District was diagnosed with stage four mucosal melanoma, which had metastasized to his liver. He tried a trial drug to no avail. Then he began high-dose radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Earlier this month, Streich reached a milestone: cancer-free for nine years.
Herb Buchbinder, a longtime supporter of UMKC athletics, thought he had a hernia when he first felt pain. His doctor initially thought it was nothing. But tests eventually showed an aggressive form of liposarcoma. At the time, doctors told Buchbinder there were only 23 other documented cases. Radiation was the only treatment option, although Buchbinder emphasizes that humor also played a role. He has some nerve damage, but otherwise he’s been cancer-free for 15 years.
It’s often said that cancer doesn’t discriminate. Descendants of the famed, spouses of the wealthy, dedicated school administrators, working-class folks — cancer does not care who you or your people are, nor what they’ve accomplished.
Which is why it is refreshing to see the notoriety of these coaches applied to such a worthy cause. Norm Stewart, a former head basketball coach of MU, began this effort 22 years ago following his own bout with colon cancer. It’s morphed through the years, gathering up the involvement of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (founded by Phog Allen). In fact, the American Cancer Society is now the national philanthropy of the coach’s association.
Nationwide, with the help of many coaches and fans, the effort is credited with raising more than $100 million. Tuesday’s event in Kansas City added about $275,000 to that total. Victory awaits.