Standing Up To Cancer

I’m writing this blog for a lot of reasons.  I’m writing this blog because my mother spent the past year fighting Lymphoma.  I’m writing this blog because my father is also a cancer survivor.  I’m writing this blog because I lost two former co-workers to cancer in the past year.  I’m writing this blog because longtime Buffalo News sports reporter Allen Wilson passed away from Leukemia yesterday at the age of 49.  Another father, husband, brother and son lost to this horrible diseases.  I’m writing this blog because thousands of people around the world will be spending the holidays without a loved on that they lost to cancer in the past year.  I’m writing this blog because it in Jimmy V week on ESPN and I am reminded of a speech that I heard 18 years ago when I was 11 years old.  A speech that I’ve never forgotten and will never forget.

Jim Valvano March 10, 1946 - April 28, 1993

In 1993 ESPN decided to have their own award show in the vein of the Oscars and the Grammys called the ESPYs.  Being a die hard sports fan I was of course excited for this show, after all I had sat around while my mother watched the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards.  I wasn’t really prepared to see what I saw.  A few months back when I wrote about game 6 of the World Series I talked about when moments in time are frozen that you never know when they are going to come.  This was on of those moments.  Former NC State head coach Jim Valvano accepted the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award.  Valvano had been diagnosed with bone cancer in June of 1992.  9 months later Valvano was a frail version of himself but he stood tall that night.  I remember watching the speech from my living room in the house I grew up in.  I remember when he passionately unveiled the slogan for the Jimmy V Foundation that he announced during the speech that he was starting…”Don’t Give up…Don’t Ever Give Up.”  I remember being scared when he blew the producer backstage who told him he had 30 seconds, saying “I have tumors all over my body I’m not listening to some guy in the back.”  It was amazing to see so much life in a man who had so little of it left.  He also gave a lesson on life that I never forgot.  “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”  56 days after giving that speech Jim Valvano passed away of cancer at the age of 47.  He never got the chance to present the Arther Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award to its second winner, former major league baseball umpire Steve Palermo, as he expressed hope in doing in his speech.

Allen Wilson 1962-2011

Cancer takes good people away every day.  Yesterday it was Allen Wilson.  Wilson was the Buffalo News’ beat writer for the Bills from 1999 until he was no longer able to do so before the start of this season.  Wilson had a reputation for being a fair and honest reporter.  He was a low key sportswriter at a time where his brethren try to become as much a part of the story as the players that they cover.  Wilson was fair though, and he treated all of the players, coaches, and executives that he covered equally and respectfully.  Wilson was a large man in stature (back in the 90’s he often got autograph requests from fans who confused him with Hall of Fame Defensive End Bruce Smith) but his mild mannered personality was his trademark.  Football reporting in Western New York will never be the same without Wilson.  (Read Wilson’s obituary in the Buffalo News here)  This past January it was Carrie Strube.  Carrie was a former co-worker of mine, she was tough yet compassionate, hard-working yet fun-loving.  She was taken by cancer at the age of 44.  (Read Boston.com’s article on Carrie here)  My co-worker, and my pal, Ed Drapeau succumbed to cancer on July 10 at the age of 46.  He left behind a wife and 5 kids.  Ed was a tough son of a bitch, he would drive 35 miles from his home in Southern Massachusetts to downtown Boston to get chemo and radiation treatments and then drive to Newton and work a 10 hour day.  His spirit never broke either.  When I first met him he was an easy going, jovial guy.  He was the same guy the last time I saw him.  You can walk up to anyone on the street and they can tell you ten sad stories just like these.

Mark Herzlich, cancer survivor, starting LB, New York Giants

Of course for every story like this there seems to be a success story these days.  Thanks to the tireless work of people all over the country and the world that have made this their cause we are really standing up the cancer.  These success stories are thanks to people like Jim Valvano and the countless men and women who have taken his torch at the Jimmy V Foundation and made it a smashing success.  These success stories, like my mother’s who after a long and brutal battle with cancer was recently given a clean bill of health, are made possible by people like Cam Neely, who has donated numerous dollars, time and effort into Tufts Medical Center, where my mother was treated.  Neely lost both of his parents to cancer and made it part of his life’s work to make sure the people that treated them at Tufts had everything available to them to make sure people don’t lose their parents like he lost his.  These success stories are facilitated by places like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, named after former Major League pitcher and Manager Fred Hutchinson, who passed away of lung cancer at the age of 45.  In the winter of 2006 the Hutchinson Center treated a young 22 year old man named Jon Lester for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Lester was given a clean bill of health in December and the following October he started, and won, the clinching Game 4 of the 2007 World Series for the Boston Red Sox.  Success stories like the one of Mark Herzlich, who was an All-American Linebacker at Boston College and projected to be a 2nd round pick if he came out after his junior year.  He decided to stay for his senior season and try to improve his draft status.  Instead of playing football he was diagnosed and treated for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer in his leg.  He had to have a titanium rod placed in his league.  He red-shirted his senior season in 2009 and came back and played in 2010 but was nowhere near the same shape he was before.  How could he have been, he had just undergone chemotherapy and radiation during the past year.  He went undrafted in the 2011 NFL draft.  Former Boston College coach Tom Coughlin, an avid cancer research advocate who started his own foundation to help treat children with leukemia, signed him to the New York Giants.  He’ll start his third game at linebacker for the Giants today.

With cancer a little can go a long way.  You don’t have to be rich to donate, every little bit counts.  I just donated to the Jimmy V Foundation.  You can too right here.  Jim Valvano is no doubt looking down with pride seeing what his vision has turned into.  Here is the Jimmy Valvano speech from the 1993 ESPY Awards.  If you haven’t seen it, watch it:

 

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About evonsports
30 year old sports enthusiast and aspiring writer from Boston.

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