Friday, May 30, 2008

Calhoun Story

Here's the story of Jim Calhoun's cancer announcement that will run in tomorrow's Register:

STORRS --- Jim Calhoun has won 773 career games and a pair of national championships. He will now try to defeat cancer for a third time.

Calhoun announced at a press conference on Friday that he recently had a golf ball-sized cancerous mass removed from the right side of his neck, just underneath his jaw. A biopsy of the mass had shown that it was squamous cell cancer, which Calhoun had had removed from his right cheek in 2007.

The mass was removed from his neck on May 6 by Dr. Jeffrey Spiro, at the UConn Health Center.

“To the best of my knowledge, coach is cancer-free now,” Dr. Spiro said.

However, beginning on June 24, Calhoun will undergo six weeks of radiation treatments as a precaution. The treatments (which are not chemotherapy) are expected to cause some fatigue, particularly towards the later stages, and should affect Calhoun’s summer schedule. But he has absolutely no plans on retiring after 22 seasons as UConn’s head men’s basketball coach.

“I look forward to coaching for an awful long time,” Calhoun said. “I’ve had a little bit of a setback, but I will fight through this.”

Added Dr. Spiro: “I don’t think that all of this will have any significant impact on his life, and certainly not on his ability to coach basketball.”

Calhoun, of course, had prostate cancer back in 2003 but missed only five games before returning to the sidelines. This cancer is completely unrelated to his prior bout with prostate cancer. Instead, the belief is that a rogue cell from his 2007 bout with skin cancer spread to the lymph nodes in his neck.

Looking well-tanned and fit, the six-inch, 53-stitch scar from the operation already fading away, Calhoun explained that he started feeling tired towards the end of this past season (“more so than normal”), while also suffering through an upper respiratory illness. He noticed a small lump in his neck that he thought was simply a boil. When the season was over and he went out on a recruiting trip, he became even more fatigued, and the mass and grown to the size of a marble.

About three weeks later, it was near the size of a golf ball, and Calhoun sought medical advice.

“I listened to my own body,” Calhoun explained. “I knew I didn’t feel right.”

At first, doctors thought it was a cyst, a result of his upper respiratory infection, but Dr. Spiro’s biopsy soon revealed otherwise.

“I went home to Pat (his wife), and we said we’d fight this thing together,” Calhoun recalled. “That ride home alone ... the only thing I thought about was Pat, my sons, my daughters-in-law, and my grandchildren. The No. 1 thing is, I want to be there to enjoy them.”

In fact, three days after his operation, on a Friday, Calhoun had tissue fluid drained from the area. The following Monday, he flew out to Oregon for a golfing trip that he’s been taking for years with his sons, Jeff and Jim, Jr.

“He didn’t slow down very much,” Dr. Spiro said, with a smile. “He’s doing very well.”

Still, the radiation treatments will hinder Calhoun’s summer schedule. He still plans on riding (either 25 or 50 miles) in the second annual Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride, a fundraising bike ride on Sunday, June 8 that begins and ends in Simsbury.

He still plans on playing some golf, though he won’t participate in this year’s Travelers Championship pro-am, as he has in years’ past. And he knows that his summer recruiting trips will be curtailed -- for instance, Calhoun won’t be able to attend this year’s Nike Peach Jam Invitational July 12-15 in South Carolina.

Calhoun’s radiation treatments will occur five times a week for six weeks. They’ll only last about 25-30 minutes but will take their toll physically, particularly towards the end of the regimen. But Calhoun’s resolve has never been stronger.

“I’m fortunate enough to have a great family, a job I love, something I look forward to every single day. I don’t want to lose that,” he said. “I love life. I love my kids, I love my family, I love what they do. To think those might be taken away from you ...”

But Jim Calhoun will summon all his strength to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The thing I have on my side is that I’m willing to step up and fight it,” he added. “I’m not going to let this thing beat me.”

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