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December 5th, 2012
03:01 PM ET

Anti-cancer champion coach beats his own cancer

Editor's Note: In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds.  Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed.  This week we introduce you to Brigham Young University Men's Basketball Coach Dave Rose.   For the past two decades, he has been involved with a group called Coaches vs. Cancer. Being part of this group took on a whole new meaning for Rose over the past three years.  

In June of 2009, my wife and I went on vacation with our children and grandchildren to Disneyland.  At that time, I was very intense about my job, so my wife will say she had to drag me away from my team and coaching.  I'm so glad she did.  We had a wonderful time.  It was the perfect vacation with my whole family.

After Disneyland, things for me took a turn.  I became very sick on a flight from California to Las Vegas, and when we landed I was taken by ambulance to Spring Valley Hospital.  A CT scan showed there was a mass in my abdomen, so the doctors went in and removed it along with my spleen and part of my pancreas.  The next day they told us it was pancreatic cancer.

My wife and I talked about all the people we knew who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we came up with eight different friends or acquaintances. All eight had passed.  That's when the only thing to be said was, "We're going to beat this. We'll figure out a way."

It was a scary couple of days with a lot of uncertainty.  But then there was good news, that this was a rare form of pancreatic cancer - neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer - the "good" kind of pancreatic cancer.  I was lucky - 1% percent of the people who get pancreatic cancer get the kind I got, one that is actually treatable.

There are a lot of things I learned from my experience.  I realized that we all need to be more kind to each other.  There were so many people who did so many things for me and my family that we didn't know and we can't repay them.  When I got to the hospital in Las Vegas, I received 10 units of blood - that's 10 people out there who basically saved my life.  On the plane there was a lady who let me use her jacket as a pillow.  She got off the plane before we were able to give it back.  Those are just a couple of examples of strangers that helped or reached out to us.

When I met with my team for the first time after everything happened, my wife told them about all the people who helped us and had sent us well-wishes.  She said there was no way we could repay them, but asked the team to make it right by helping others, by being Good Samaritans.

That was a great season.  We won 30 games.  But it was really satisfying to hear our players tell their stories about the little things they'd done to help others throughout the year.

This experience has also taught me to appreciate things that I didn't appreciate before,  things that I took for granted.  I appreciate a beautiful day and a blue sky.  I appreciate that I get to do what I do.  I always want to remember what it felt like to go back to work and to hold that first practice.  It gives me a perspective that I think makes me a better and a more grateful person.

If there's one thing I hope people can learn from my story, it's that there is always hope.  When I was sick, hope is what got me to the next hour, the next day, the next week.  When you think the very worst can happen, there's still hope that something good can happen.  We don't know what tomorrow's going to bring, but hold on to what you have and enjoy the process and enjoy the journey.

Today is a good day.

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Filed under: Cancer • Conditions • Human Factor • Living Well

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Gayle

    The article didn't mention the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation which Coach Rose and the Basketball team have supported for years prior to his getting cancer, so I thought I'd mention it here.

    December 10, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kathy

    From the standpoint of raising awareness, it’s important to add that the specific type of pancreatic cancer that Coach Rose had was pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NET) cancer. That did not appear to be mentioned in the video news segment.

    I write as a patient and NET support group leader who suffers from a neuroendocrine lung cancer that’s related to the cancer that Coach Rose had.

    Pancreatic NETs are different than what most people think of as pancreatic cancer. Since NET cancers can originate wherever neuroendocrine cells exist in the body, there are other types of NETs (like carcinoid cancer) besides pancreatic NETs. Among other things, NETs tend to be slower growing and the treatments for them are usually different than those for other cancers. If they are caught early enough there is a chance for a cure through surgery.

    Although the incidence and prevalence of NETs has been on the rise in recent decades, NETs have been considered rare and do not seem to be covered much in medical schools. Many doctors may not know to look for them, recognize them, or appropriately treat them. NETs are unfortunately often not caught early enough but when the disease has already spread. This often leads to a life of chronic and quite expensive and difficult to manage disease.

    When I think of all the friends in the NET support community that I watched long suffer and then lost to these insidious diseases, I know that even though NETs are slow growing, they are not always indolent. They are cancers and like other cancers can kill. It was a pancreatic NET that took the life of Apple Founder Steve Jobs last year.

    It is important to get the word out and raise awareness of NET cancers in the hope that increased awareness will lead to earlier diagnosis, more research toward a cure and more appropriate care for more NET patients.

    December 11, 2012 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Wade Malaurson

    please visit our site http://www.bcgbladdercancer.com

    December 14, 2012 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Naama Tsivoni Cohen

    good read, thank you

    December 17, 2012 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. metastatic pancreatic cancer

    This was a really inspiring story and in a way Dave was lucky not to have suffered from the more common metastatic pancreatic cancer otherwise the story wouldn't have been so positive. Typically this type of cancer gets diagnosed at a very late stage due to the fact there are no clear symptoms by which point the patient only has a few months left to live. I believe Steve Jobs died from pancreatic cancer.

    February 18, 2013 at 19:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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      February 18, 2013 at 19:26 | Report abuse |
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.