Even ‘treatable’ cancer sucks

Published 9:25 am Thursday, October 29, 2015

St. Cloud Times

Tribune Content

In August, when the Minnesota Timberwolves announced head coach Flip Saunders had been in treatment for about two months for Hodgkin lymphoma, a common second reference to the cancer was this: “Doctors consider it very treatable and curable.”

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Heck, even Saunders, one of Minnesota’s most famous basketball icons, said the disease would not interfere with his coaching and administrative duties with the Wolves.

And why not? The American Cancer Society reports five-year survival rates range from 65 percent to 90 percent.

Yet on Sunday — roughly four months after his initial diagnosis — Saunders died at age 60 from complications of treating the disease.

Minnesotans, along with legions of basketball fans worldwide, saw firsthand a high-profile example of the truth to those words “cancer sucks.” The quick, shocking end to Saunders’ battle is also why we can never take for granted any cancer is “very treatable and curable.” And it’s why so many people work so hard to find ways to cure this and other cancers.

The Mayo Clinic, which oversaw Saunders’ treatment, explains Hodgkin lymphoma — formerly known as Hodgkin’s disease — as a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. Cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and may spread. As it worsens, it compromises the patient’s ability to fight infection.

But even the Mayo’s explanation notes: “Advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma have helped give people with this diagnosis the chance for a full recovery. The prognosis continues to improve for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

Yet even Saunders, a top-flight athlete who played basketball at University of Minnesota and the NBA, could not win this battle.

Make no mistake. His presence will be missed, especially in the Timberwolves organization and the NBA. As news reports have noted, this year’s roster is one he essentially handpicked. From veteran Kevin Garnett to Minnesota-raised and newly drafted Tyus Jones, the team had Saunders openly excited all summer.

It’s a credit to Saunders and the players they were able to even open the season Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

But like so many people have to do all too frequently, the Wolves and all of the NBA have to find ways to move on and help find a cure.

Cancer sucks — even more so when it’s described as “very treatable and curable.”