My Cancer Story, or How I Lost My Sports Fan Mojo

As I type this, my beloved Kansas Jayhawks basketball team is playing an NCAA Tournament game against Wichita State. As you can guess, it’s kind of a big deal around here.

And I’m not watching. For the sake of my mental health, I’ll probably shut down my Twitter feed for the next couple of hours. This is obviously strange behavior for someone who has lived and died with the Jayhawks for over 30 years, but let me tell you about it….

In early March of 2010, I had surgery to remove a lump under my jaw. The doctor hoped it was just a cyst, but it turned out to be a lymph node and sent it off for pathology. At the follow up visit, he said I needed to see an oncologist.

On March 18th, several things happened:

1. The #1 ranked Jayhawks beat the snot out of a 16 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
2. I went to the Oncologist, learned that my cancer was a Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, there was a pretty good chance it had spread, and I needed to have a PET scan on Monday.
3. I told my kids (then 14 and 11) I had cancer.

Worst day of my life, so far.

I spent the next few days trying to process what was happening to me. I don’t think I ever really figured out “why”. When Saturday, March 20th came, it was time for my Jayhawks to play again, against one of those “no big deal” mid-major teams, Northern Iowa. That would take my mind off things, wouldn’t it? Cole Aldridge would dunk on their heads, Sherron Collins would work his magic, and the Morris Twins would show off their rapidly improving form. No problem!

If you’re a KU fan, you know how it turned out. (Badly.) I spent most of that game in my home office, watching with the sound turned off. I spent most of the evening sitting in that same chair, with my head on my desk and the lights out, letting the pain flow through me, wondering what else the world had in store for me. I’ve never been the same fan since.

Something in me broke that day. I don’t blame the team, they just had a bad game at the worst possible time. I just needed an emotional lift from somewhere that day, and the most likely source didn’t deliver.

The next Monday, I had that PET scan, and learned that the cancer hadn’t spread very far. The next day, they surgically installed a port for the chemotherapy infusions and did a bone marrow biopsy, which was also encouraging. The next week I started the six rounds of chemo, which wasn’t too bad other than that one day every three weeks I couldn’t get out of my recliner thanks to the prednisone crash, and I was officially declared in remission on July 10th. A few months from now, I will hopefully have my last follow-up visit with the Oncologist, and will be considered “cured”.

But I really won’t be. I don’t have any physical limitations, and the only really significant side effect is an occasional inability to pull a word out of my head when needed. People I’ve known for years, items I’ve used forever, topics I can discuss in detail, but once in a while I just can’t pull that name or term out of my head. Chemo Brain, they call it. But I can deal with that, and consider myself fortunate that it’s all I have to deal with.

One thing I’ve lost is the ability to be a good fan. If things are going badly for one of my teams, I turn off the TV. If I’m in the building, and things are going extremely badly, I will leave. (Yes, I walked out of Allen Fieldhouse after KU blew that huge lead against Oklahoma this season.) Why? I think have a fear of experiencing the despair of March 20th, 2010 again, and I’ll do whatever it takes to avoid it.

I’m not really “bought in” to my teams anymore. And I hate that. For good or bad, I’ve invested a lot of mental energy in them over my life, and now I’m afraid to anticipate any big game because it might turn out badly. The KC Royals were in the playoffs for the first time since I was in college, and all I could do is view each game with dread and treat the series-clinching outs with relief. It’s why I’m listening to a podcast that some friends of mine make (hey to Dave, Barry, and Tod) instead of watching my favorite team play basketball.

So. This was probably all just a bunch of whiny drivel from a guy who should just thank God, his lucky stars, and modern medicine for his continuing presence on this planet, and get over it. Maybe I will someday, or maybe I should just walk away from sports. But after 40+ years of devoted fandom, I don’t know how.

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