This story is a little old, but I need to tell it.
I was diagnosed with Cancer in November 2008. It was just one month before my wedding and only a year after my move to South Carolina. I was far from my mother and father. Far from my hometown of Orlando. I had my then future-wife working on our wedding and I was facing a serious disease. I did not feel alone because my family and loving fiancée’ (at the time) would never allow that. But I did feel helpless.
It was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It is a disease that targets the lymph nodes and can spread to places like the spleen and stomach. Luckily mine was caught at stage 2 when it hadn’t spread. But it had caused a large tumor in my chest and a few in my neck. I began a series of chemo therapy sessions the day before Thanksgiving and that was after a surgery I had to have performed one week earlier to remove one of the tumors.
If it all seems overwhelming reading, know that it was more overwhelming living it. I didn’t know what chemo would do to me. I didn’t know how it would affect my appearance at my wedding which was just a month away. I didn’t even know if I had the inner strength to face it. I had the support from the outside; I had things to cling on to, my son, my wedding, my family, my love for sports. But I needed something to look forward to (here is where my wife would say I had our wedding which was true, but it would come even before I finished my first round of chemo).
That is where the Orlando Magic come into this blog. If you are reading this now, you can probably place the timeline. I started November 26, 2008. I was to go through 6 months’ worth. On that date the Orlando Magic were 10-4. That night they would play against Philadelphia. It was a game I was able to watch because I had just had 4 hours of poison shot through my system and I was not moving from the bed other than to rush to the toilet when I felt like throwing up.
I felt cranky, sore and confused. I wanted nothing but to lie in bed and cry. But watching the Magic pull out a victory by just 2 points was thrilling and it let me forget for just a couple hours of the fight ahead of me. Rashard Lewis hit a 3-pointer that snapped the Magic out of a terrible second half of shooting and that was all that was going through my mind at the time.
I continued to go to chemo. Once was just two days before my wedding. Magic lost that night, but it was a hard fought loss to the Pistons. I realized then, that not everything is easy. I had to have known that because I had a disease surging through my body while the cure was causing me to fell nauseous and helpless, but I needed a reminder.
The Magic continued to plow along during that season and I continued to watch. They had set backs, like I had setbacks. In February they lost their all-star starting point guard, Jameer Nelson, to a shoulder injury. That same month, I was told I couldn’t do chemo on my scheduled date because my white blood cell count was too low. Both of us persevered. I took injection shots to boost my immunity and the Magic got Rafer Alston. I think I got it easier. The loss forced them to find other playmakers. The setback in treatment made me more determined to beat the unspeakable monster growing inside me.
My last treatment was June 9th. I sat through 6 months of being poked, prodded and injected with poison. All the while I was able to keep getting up because I had found something to cling on to. Hope. And not just hope I would survive. I knew I would. There was no question about it. Hope for a team that was my hometown team. Hope that they could do something amazing with teamwork. They did too. They made it all the way to the finals that year. They beat the defending champs, the Celtics after being down in the series. They even did it without their all-star point guard. They traveled on the road and won Game 7 in the Garden. That was something. It was inspiring to me because every time they looked beat they pulled themselves up and tried just a little harder. I was inspired watching them. Here I was fighting cancer and they were urging me along without ever knowing it.
After the Game 7 win in the Garden, the headed to Cleveland where again they were expected to lose. But they grinded out a series win and returned to the finals for the first time since I was boy. They ended up losing the finals to the Lakers, but here is the thing about that. I didn’t care. Because if you are paying attention, my last treatment was on June 9th, the night of their only Finals game win, and on the morning of the 14th (the night of their final loss)I had just seen my first catscan results in the last half of a year that was completely cancer free. Nothing could bring me down from that.
I know sports teams have found a way to work their way into my heart. The ’86 Mets, the ’01 Patriots, the ’06 Boise State team, but the 2008-2009 Orlando Magic are the only team to work its way into my health. I will forever remember that team as the team that helped me make it through the hardest thing I have ever done. And it will always be a team that holds a place in my heart.