Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Zach McCabe and Teddy Roosevelt

I was disappointed but not surprised to hear about nimrods on Twitter attacking University of Iowa basketball player Zach McCabe for his performance in a recent game. And Fran McCaffery telling his players to shut down their accounts is understandable, though some have argued that doesn't really address the problem.

It is, however, good to see McCabe getting support from those who get it--his teammates, coaches, family, friends, fans, and others who know what it's like to put everything you have into something, only to lose and take criticism form a world of no-nothings and do-nothings.

I'm a recovering social studies teacher, which partially explains my affinity for quotes. All this reminds me of a hellagood one from Teddy Roosevelt. I had it hanging in my classroom when I was a high school basketball coach trying to build a new, positive winning culture in our basketball program. The sign was many years before Twitter, but TR's wisdom holds true today.


In a 1910 speech in France, Roosevelt said,

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best in the end knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Well said, Ted.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Jolt and the Blessings

A little before 10:00 a.m. on December 6, I was working on some important stuff--feedback on student projects. I was working away, a little distracted by the weather, impending holidays, paying for our kids' college, wondering when the Panthers would play with more consistency. That's when my wife called.

She was with our son (15) at his sports physical, 366 days after the previous one. The doctor wanted an ultrasound done because he didn't like the feel of one of our son's testicles during that part of the exam. I was swamped, but didn't mind running across town to wait with them while we confirmed that we had nothing except a thorough doctor.

After the ultrasound, the lab called the doctor, who then called me. Not knowing I was already with my wife and son at the lab, he asked if I could meet them in his office. I asked if we could run our son back to school first. He said, "No, why don't all three of you come."

Pause. That's when you realize you're not being invited to be told the ultrasound looks great and to have a good weekend. That's when the  projects, weather, college tuition and Panthers evaporate from your mind while it races to anticipate what is about to enter that space.

Our excellent doctor is a straight shooter. After a little foggy small talk, he said, "I want you to see this as your lucky day." Then he looked at our son and said he had testicular cancer. He had no pain, symptoms or history. The lucky part, he said, was that he had found it early and that TC is one for which there are clear and effective ways forward. Cures in most cases.

Or something like that, as near as I can remember. I will admit to the room spinning a bit. Light-headed and a little nauseous, I tried to ask some intelligent questions and process his answers. At the risk of turning this post into one that is far too long, I'm compelled to share a few thoughts.

The same afternoon, he had a CT Scan that showed no evidence of any cancer anywhere else. He got back to school in time to play (and play well) in his basketball game and told his buddies openly what was up. I would have wanted to play, but I doubt I would have played well. And I might have said there was something wrong with my knee. We're all justifiably proud of our kids, but that's a helluva combination of grace, honesty and toughness in my book.

We've learned so much since then, such as:
  • how testicular cancer is quite rare, with only approximately 8,000 cases a year in the US;
  • but that it is the most common form of cancer in males ages 13-35;
  • and that it is 95% or so curable, when caught early;
  • but that many men (and a stunning number of doctors) don't give it any attention, causing many cases to advance quickly.
We've also learned how breathtakingly caring so many people are. Work colleagues, our son's teachers, coaches and classmates have been incredible. People we only know casually have brought movie tickets, candy, magazines, cookies, cards, sent texts and of course, good wishes and prayers. Parents who've experienced the same thing have shared their stories and fears. Guys I haven't heard from in 25 years have called. A signed photo with a message from Mike Krzyzewski showed up in the mail. And every last bit of it helps one navigate, more than I could have imagined, a surreal road.

He is back at school and basketball now. We've reviewed the options with our excellent team of doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and have opted for surveillance, given that he has a 70% chance of being cured at this point. We will deal with anything else that might be necessary if it becomes so.

Meantime, some free advice from a guy who was working on a bunch of important stuff on December 6.

  • Tell the young men in your life to get familiar with themselves and to do an easy monthly self-exam. Tell the same young men to expect their doctors to do that part of a routine physical. The Wendy's Drive-Thru takes longer and the exam is better for you. To blow if off is somewhere between medical malpractice and negligence.  
  • Tether yourself to important things...core values, family, true friends, your faith. We know the world is full of crazy, scary stuff, but let's face it. Most of it happens to someone else. Until it's not someone else. 
  • Count your blessings. Twice, but not in a way that says, "Wow, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that." Rather, count them in a way that gives thanks but also acknowledges that blessings also take the form of caring friends, family and people who are damn good at what they do--including some you'll never meet and others you never want to but who show up big at game time.  
  • Breathe in this life and be one of those blessings to someone when you have the chance.