This will have some highs and lows, be prepared for some sadness and also a few bits of triumph (watch for the tv movie to be released sometime this fall) j/k.
Most people who know me would say my greatest strength is my iron will. If I want to win something or get something, I will. Strap in and find out a bit about me and where my love for basketball comes from.
spoiler: There are things I will write that you will have to google to believe, google away or just enjoy the story (sorry I'm not a better writer)
I came from a baseball family, that's the sport we watched every game of. We have a family brick outside Comerica Park. Johns Family, it's right near the entrance of the door to the far right. It list my father, two older brothers, and me. My dad loved baseball; I liked it and tried to loved it to get his love. (It never really worked) I was good at baseball but never put the time in to be better when I was little, I liked playing basketball instead. My oldest brother (Justin) was the exact opposite. He loved baseball, and would play basketball on occasion.
My parents split up when I was 11. Feeling my father get further away I stopped playing basketball in my off time and put some time in the cages. I was always a good fielder but didn't have a strong bat. The following year I got MIP for my team. Did I win his love? Of course not, that's not how it works in real life, just in your mind as a child... He was at the park when I was getting my medals, but he thought it more important to watch my oldest brother field ground balls then watch me in what was my proudest baseball moment. I still played baseball but went back to my true love.
As I was coming home from that last baseball game of the season, I walked onto my back porch. It was my middle brothers (Calvin) 14th birthday, he never went to our games. He was always much more into art. He is an amazing artist and the smartest person I know by a long shot. Two Master degrees and almost done with his PHD. Anyway, sitting on that porch was a girl... not a girl, THE girl. I walked right up to her as any triumphant 12 year old would. "What's your name?" I asked her. "Jenny" she replied. "How old are you?" "17". She wasn't, she was 15, but I wouldn't know that for a few years. I thought about that gap for a second... hummm 5 years seems like a lot. Fuck it! A new goal.... she will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine. I walked over to Calvin "dibs". It didn't matter to him, oddly enough he liked her younger sister who is only two weeks apart from me.
CTBAAF what the fuck does this have to do with cancer OR basketball? keep your shirt on (except Kriz) I'm getting there.
Basketball was my sport. I had my aunt record all the pistons games and I would sneak out of my room at night to watch them. (I was the youngest and NEVER got tv time) This cost me greatly as I shared a room with Calvin and had to bribe him often to keep my secret, it was worth it. I loved Joe and Bill. They were my boys.
I was good at basketball, really good. I went to a high school that had about 2500 kids, not huge not tiny. There were three teams, fresh, jv, varsity. If you were a freshman you HAD to play on the freshman team. Not me, I was the first freshman to play varsity, and I started.
I still get picked on to this day by my brother because of my Al Bundy moment. Al Bundy had four touchdowns in one game and talked about it all the time. I had a quadruple double, I don't let people (Justin) forget. 26points,14 Assist, 11 steals, and 10 rebounds. Oh yeah, and Tom Izzo happened to be at that game by my brothers request. You see, Justin was on the scouting squad at MSU (a team that plays against High school seniors looking for scholarships) and had been in Izzo's ear every time he got a chance. The scouting squad gets some descent time with the coaching staff but not a ton with Izzo, as you can imagine. So that was crazy amazing fact number 1. If you’re not in my family you probably don't believe it and I gave up trying to convince people of my former greatness long ago, so let’s move on.
I ended the school year on a good note, but my shot wasn't falling the last few games. No big deal, people get in slumps. (So I thought) Did I mention that around the beginning of my freshman year (December 4th to be exact), after over two years of pursuit, I started dating Jenny? I did, and it was awesome. I love that girl.
Schools over baseballs going strong and I couldn't hit shit. I had just moved up one league and thought that was the problem... this was the first year I was in the same league as Justin and I wanted nothing more than to beat his team. I stayed with my old coach who had teams in both leagues; he and his friends started their own team the year before. We were the Bobcats!!! yes!!! They were something stupid I can't recall at the moment. GO BOBCATS right guys, am I right?
About 10 games into the season we were about to face Justin's team for the first of two games. He didn't play and I don't remember why. I didn't get a hit and I couldn't figure out why. I spent hours in the cages, on medium I could smack the crap out of the ball, on fast I couldn't even hit one. Was I really that bad, After all my work? I was becoming very down on myself. Soon I was to find out why.
Jenny asked me to go out to eat (thank God she was 17 and could drive, funny story of when I found out she was only 2 1/2 years older but I'll save that for another time) We went out to eat a lot. I always loved food and we would go to new restaurants as often as we could. When we got "there" there turned out to be an eye exam. She is wise beyond her years (don't ever tell her I said that). The Doc said there was a liquid build up behind my eye and sent me off to U of M medical. At U of M they said it was an object and don't know what it is. They thought it best to then send me off to Philly, Wills Eye Hospital. It's the best Ocular cancer hospital I the country.
This is getting longer then I thought. part two after dinner.
(As I sat down to finish writing this last night I tried to think how best to explain the emotional turmoil something like this can cause. It's not an easy task, which is why I included as much back story as I did.) And now the conclusion:
As I fly to Philly I stare out the window of the plane, I see cloud after cloud. Images of heaven float around my head. I really didn't know what to expect when I got there, how could I. How many 15 year old kids really understand life and death, I know I didn't at the time. It was a weird mix between "maybe it's not that bad" and "holy shit I'm going to die" soon I'd have my answer.
After two days of more pokes (16 in right arm 12 in left), prods, scans, ultrasounds (feels weird on your eye) then I ever care to remember the Doctors (a husband and wife team, The Shields) gave me some news. "You have Malignant Ocular Melanoma." ... my mother burst into tears, I just kinda sat there. I really didn't know what to think. "we have two option" they said. "We can try radiation therapy or we can perform an Enucleation, but we need to do it now." They judge the severity of tumors like this by how close they are to the brain, liver, or lungs and mine was about 1/2 inch away from my brain. I heard my mom outside talking to the other Dr. Shield as I sat there thinking about my options. "What’s the best case" my mom said. "Two years, it's too close to the brain. Even if we get most of it out, the odds are it will come back. You should prepare for what's ahead" basically I heard the doctor tell my mom i was toast. Fun right? I spent most of the time i should have been weighing this decision taking care of my mom. She got it, I didn't. I didn't understand I should be feeling the same way that she was. I was 15, Immortal.
We opted to give the therapy a go and try to save my eye, so back to MI we went. It was the worst few months of my life. I was fast, strong, and caring before all this started. I became slow, weak, and mad at the world. I pushed most people that loved me away. All my friends, all of them. Jenny stayed by me as much as she could, it wasn't easy for her.
More good news, it wasn't working. The tumor wasn't shrinking. Back to Philly I go. "We need to take your eye out now, we can't wait any longer". 3 months of hell for nothing, shoulda just yanked it out last time I was here. At least it was the summer and I didn't miss any Pistons games. "Alright, let's do it" I said, and they did.
August 6th 1998, they took out my eye (bastards).
As I was getting ready to attempt my sophomore year of high school, I called coach. "Give me a few weeks and I'll be back in the gym coach" I said. I couldn't wait to be able to play again. One eye or not I knew I was better than the scrubs at my school. It would just take hard work right? The American dream and what not. "you can't play" said coach. "The school can't carry the insurance" This was almost as bad as losing the eye itself. I didn't just lose my eye, I lost who I was. I was basketball.
I had to get blood work every three months, ultrasounds every 6 and x-rays every 9. It reminded me every time that I wasn't who I was. I went down a dark path, for a few years really. Jenny and I broke up a year or so later. She couldn't stand watching me destroy myself anymore. I got in a bit of trouble here and there. Left school, although I got my GED (before my friends graduated from high school) so I could go away to school and not come back. It was hard being seen by so many with pity in their eyes. They knew me for what I was, and I would never be that person again.
Do we need a happy break at this point? I'm currently doing a job I love and I have two amazing kids with one on the way. (end happy break)
I played basketball with every second of spare time I had. I couldn't shoot corner threes any more without depth perception so I had to change my game. Being the 5'9 (My brothers are 6'3 and 6'4) white kid that can't shoot 3's doesn't get you in many pick-up games. It took me a long time to admit that part. Yet it was the single most important part of getting out of the funk my life was stuck in. Becoming a "pass first" point guard. Getting others involved before myself, letting go of my need to be "the man". Basketball once again was the sole driving force in my life. I was becoming okay with who I was. I knew I'd never play college ball, let alone the NBA, and it was okay.
All the while I was cooking to support myself, mostly crappy bar food. I got a good break and starting working in a fine dining restaurant. I loved it. After about a year of working there the owner was pushing me to go to culinary school. He graduated from The Culinary Institute of America (C.I.A.), which is the best culinary school in the country. I didn't want to put myself out there again. I didn't think I was good enough at anything to try to go to something labeled the best. It took him another year to convince me to try.
I was all set to start in November when I got a call from admissions in August. August 6th, to be exact. (amazing fact / coincidence #2). "Would you be interested in applying for the ACE program?" The Lady said. "What is it" I asked. She said "It's a program for people who have been in the field for at least three years, it's more intense and we only take 18 students per year" "What do I have to do?" "Well" she continued "you have to submit a recipe of your own, take an online assessment test, and cook a practical in front of a panel of Master chefs" (The C.I.A. is the only place in the country that can certify a master chef) " It also doesn't start until January, would that be a problem?" "Can I think about it?"
Amazing happening # 3: I grabbed my ball and went outside. If I make three corner 3's in a row, I'll try. First shot bounced around the rim a bit and feel in. Second shot, more of the same. I got scared, I didn't want to try, trying is hard. Third shot, nothing but net. So I tried. just like when I was you, if i tried I succeed
Amazing fact # 4. If I didn't make that last shot, I would not have tried. I would have went to the normal program and started in November. Why does that matter? On December 4th I went to a bar to watch a Pistons game (I would have been in New York) it was 10 years to the day I had started dating Jenny. Guess who was in that bar, watching that game? My wife, Jenny. I probably would never had seen her again if not for two things, making that shot and trying watch my Pistons.
So, it’s Fifteen years later. I'm Alive against all odds (Go me) and I have an amazing wife, two kids, a good job, a new house last month, and most importantly, no cancer.
Thanks for reading this. It wasn't always easy to write. I don't like pity so you better keep busting my balls or I'll go Kriz on you and stab you at the opening game. Which I'm sure we will all be at. Hope you see you guys then. Sorry it's so long.