On April 10, 2014, Craig Sager was at the top of his career, running between locker rooms as a sports reporter to interview professional athletes during a late-season basketball game. He had no way of knowing that his life was about to change dramatically.
“All of a sudden, a jolt hit me,” he says. “It felt like I was in the twilight zone, like my body was not connected to me.”
So, Craig went to see one of the team’s doctors. “He said, ‘You gotta go to the hospital. Now.’”
“My life turned upside down,” Craig says. “I was very naïve. I thought, ‘Well, the playoffs are coming up in a couple of weeks, so whatever it is, get me some pills. Do whatever we have to do, because I don’t want to miss the playoffs. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be back to work.’ And the doctors kind of looked at me like, ‘That’s not exactly how it works.’”
Craig flew home to Atlanta, where he received chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. His son, Craig Sager Jr., was his donor. This put his AML into remission for a short time, but it didn’t last.
“When I had the stem cell transplant, I thought that would be it,” Craig says. But then I had a relapse. And that’s what I’ve been battling now for two-and-a-half years.”
AML treatment at MD Anderson
In May 2015, Craig came to MD Anderson for more chemotherapy and another stem cell transplant. That put his cancer in remission again, but only temporarily.
He’s now facing more AML treatment -- chemotherapy and a third stem cell transplant from a different donor.
“I understand that it’s not a cure-all all the time,” he says, “but I’m optimistic that the third time is the charm.”
Finding optimism and support at MD Anderson
One thing that helps Craig stay positive is the optimism he encounters every day among MD Anderson employees, including his oncologist, Naveen Pemmaraju, M.D., whom he fondly calls Dr. P.
“It’s like I’ve known him all my life,” Craig says. “He’s so friendly and outgoing.”
A sound game plan
As someone who covers sports for a living, Craig particularly appreciates a sound strategy.
“When the first stem cell transplant didn’t work, my doctor in Atlanta said, ‘Look. I don’t know what to tell you. We really don’t have a game plan.’” Craig recalls. “But when I came to MD Anderson, Dr. P said, ‘Look. This is our plan, and if that doesn’t work, we’ll do this and we’ll do that, so you hang in there.’ His bedside manner is so positive. I knew this was best option. We are a team. It’s tremendous.”
The power of positivity
Craig credits his wife, Stacy, and their extended family and friends with helping him stay upbeat during his stem cell transplant. But he does his best to hold up his end of the bargain, too.
“I choose not to dwell on side effects,” he says. “I told my doctors, ‘I didn’t go into it thinking, ‘This is gonna be tough.’ I wanted to think, ‘This is the best way to save my life.’”