Basketball coach cancer-free after nasopharyngeal cancer treatment
I’ve prepared for a lot of big moments and competitions in my 30 years of coaching college and high school basketball. But nothing could have prepared me for hearing that I had cancer.
I’d noticed that my allergies got bad earlier that year but did not think anything of it. My wife, Jacquie, a physician’s assistant, had heard what sounded like me snoring while I was watching television. After I assured her that I was awake, she insisted I get checked out at the emergency room.
The doctor could not get the scope down my nose during the examination. He ordered a CT scan and biopsy. I would soon learn that I had tumors behind my sinus cavity, which turned out to be nasopharyngeal cancer.
I was completely shocked. I was thinking I just had a sinus infection. It took me a couple of days to compartmentalize the news and process what to do next.
My family had just recovered from my wife’s liver transplant in Aug. 2018. So, learning that I had cancer almost exactly one year later, all I could think about was how our kids were going to take the news.
Getting to MD Anderson for nasopharyngeal cancer treatment
Since my wife has been a physician for 20 years, she helped me research the top hospitals for my type of cancer. There were no doubts that I wanted to come to MD Anderson.
During my first appointment, I met with my care team to review my case. They decided that I didn’t need surgery, and instead recommended chemotherapy and proton therapy.
My radiation oncologist, Brandon Gunn, M.D., and his team made me feel at ease. Everything about him was comfortable. He didn’t sugarcoat anything and explained the steps of my proton therapy treatment plan. He had a way of simplifying things so that I could understand what to expect. This helped my overall mindset tremendously.
Every single one of the staff at MD Anderson are rock stars! The radiation therapists at the Proton Therapy Center were able to tell when I was having a good or bad day. They made me feel like I was their only patient each day. I felt like they truly cared and that reassured me that I was in the right place getting the best treatment possible.
Coping with side effects from nasopharyngeal cancer treatment
Going through treatment was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Mid-way through proton therapy, I experienced fatigue, as well as difficulty with swallowing and keeping an appetite. My wife put a small refrigerator in our bedroom with different types of protein drinks and water. Staying hydrated helped me heal faster. Dr. Gunn and his care team provided medicine to help keep me comfortable and kept reminding me to be consistent with drinking fluids.
Following my care team’s recommendations is what kept me going. Even though I was tired, I had to do it. Once I figured that out, it made all the difference. I got in the rhythm of drinking six bottles of water a day, as well as protein drinks and soft foods and soups.
I tried to continue coaching the first few weeks of treatment. But as I grew increasingly tired, I stayed home to rest every day after treatment.
I remember doing a lot of praying and reevaluating some things in my life. I realized the things that are most important, my family, children and parents. I really love being a coach, and I wanted to be able to pour more into my players and make a difference in their lives.
Embracing life after cancer treatment
I’ll never forget the morning of Nov. 27, 2019. At 6 a.m., I got to ring the gong at the Proton Therapy Center with my wife, family and friends around me. It was the biggest victory of my life thus far – beating cancer.
My side effects subsided about four to six months after treatment. My taste buds, swallowing function and appetite came back. I stuck with soft foods for several weeks. Today, I make a point to eat healthy and keep my diet to only chicken, rice, pasta and vegetables.
My advice for others facing nasopharyngeal cancer
As I learned from my own cancer experience, it's important to stay as positive as you can. There will be good and bad days. I like to keep people laughing, so having the right mindset really helps. When doctors tell you drink water, do it! They are telling you this to put you in a situation to get better.
As tough as it might get, stay consistent and don’t ever lose sight of the finish line.