Local Coaches Share Stories About Fighting Cancer
By Michael Page
Some of the area's top college basketball coaches gathered at the Westin Hotel in Annapolis Oct. 19 for the first-ever Coaches vs. Cancer Breakfast.
The breakfast was an opportunity for several men's basketball coaches to speak about the effects cancer has had on their lives and to raise community awareness and funds to fight the disease. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, Navy head coach Ed DeChellis and Loyola assistant coach G.G. Smith were among the speakers.
Joining the coaches were Gloria Jetter Crockett, state vice president of the American Cancer Society, and WJZ sports director Mark Viviano, who emceed the event. Dr. Stuart Martin, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was also on hand to talk about where the medical community stands in the fight against the deadly disease.
From listening to all the speakers, it was clear that cancer touches many people, regardless of whether they have personally been affected.
DeChellis is a cancer survivor himself. Seven years ago, he contracted bladder cancer. Not only has DeChellis fought the disease -- and beaten it -- himself, but he has also lost both of his parents to cancer.
"Cancer is something that has touched my family and touched me personally," DeChellis said. "I really feel that it is something that is near and dear to my heart and something I want to be involved with."
A native of Western Pennsylvania, DeChellis also spoke of how financially devastating it can be to be for a family to be stricken with cancer. DeChellis's father passed away when he was 21. His stay-at-home mom had to get a job, sell the family home and move her family into a one-bedroom apartment, where DeChellis and his brother would sleep on the living-room floor.
"It can be devastating both emotionally and financially," DeChellis said. "I think that's why these great fundraising opportunities can help people financially as well."
DeChellis' mother died five years ago, after a battle with liver cancer. Having lost both of his parents and having fought disease himself, DeChellis said he had a new way of looking at life.
"I live six months at a time," he said, referring to the time frame between screenings.
Mark Turgeon, in his second year at the helm in College Park, is seeing firsthand that cancer does not discriminate against the young. A member of his staff, 19-year-old Zach Lederer, is currently in a fight for his life.
"One of my managers is in his second bout with brain cancer," Turgeon said. "He's a tough kid and competing really hard to beat it again. I've always been involved with Coaches vs. Cancer, but right now I'm even more involved because of him -- to see what Zach's going through, and how tough chemo and radiation is on him and how he keeps fighting through it."
G.G. Smith, an assistant at Loyola and son of University of Minnesota men's basketball coach Tubby Smith, has seen the disease strike close to home as well. His father was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in April. He underwent a procedure to remove the cancer and has been declared cancer free.
Crokett said the American Cancer Society was recruiting members for a third round of cancer studies, and she hoped to continue with the coaches' tipoff breakfast and spread the society's message to a much larger audience.
"This is going to be an annual event," she said. "We're looking to have coach programs not only in colleges, but also in high schools. We have also launched a football program around the Power of Pink program.
"Our long-term vision would be that all schools across Maryland at the college level and high school level are engaged with Coaches vs. Cancer and understand what it's about. It's not only about raising funds for the American Cancer Society, but to bring awareness to all of the audiences that we're serving. The pillars are to stay well, get well, fight back and find cures."
Viviano did not hesitate to lend his time when asked whether he would emcee the event. Viviano and his four siblings have experienced what cancer can do to a family.
"I lost my mother to cancer, and my father is a cancer survivor, and any time something likes this comes up and I think I could do a little bit to help, maybe down the road, to help someone deal with the ravages of cancer, I'm happy to help," he said. "I was 17, a senior in high school, and it's life-altering to say the least.
"It gives you an idea of how fragile life is. We're all here to leave at some point, but it's the quality of life you can have while you are here. I'm all about the fight to eradicate it completely, but at the very least help those who are fighting it win their fight."
Viviano, who is used to covering these coaches at WJZ, said he was excited to see them come together off the court.
"I think it's important for the community to see and recognize that these coaches, although they compete against one another when it comes to recruiting and on the court, they are aligned as a team when it comes to fighting something like cancer," Viviano said. "I mean, fighting cancer is bigger than any game, any profession. And these guys and their stories indicate how much they care and fight united."
Posted Oct. 19, 2012