Valvano Continues His Battle Against Cancer : Basketball: Younger brother of the former coach says the disease is in an advanced stage.
What began as a backache during the Final Four has developed into excruciating pain, and Jim Valvano is frightened while being treated at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Valvano, 46, is suffering from metastatic adrenal carcinoma. His doctors have told him and his family what he is dealing with.
“Metastasize means that it has advanced, it has spread,” Valvano’s brother, Bobby, said. “The cancer cells eventually will form tumors that can manufacture more cancer cells. . . . Everybody knows that this is serious enough that if he doesn’t respond to treatment, it will be fatal.”
Survival rates for his form of cancer vary, depending upon the time of detection, with five-year survival listed at 80% for early detection and sharply decreased in advanced cases.
“He has been in tremendous pain. He goes through all the things that normal cancer patients go through, like, ‘Why me? What did I do?’ ” said Bobby Valvano, 35 and, like his brother, a former college basketball coach. “Here he’s got three beautiful daughters, his career’s back in pretty good swing and he’s got enough money to do whatever he’d like to do. If you don’t have your health to take advantage of those things, it means absolutely nothing.”
The symptoms apparently started in an atmosphere reminiscent of Valvano’s greatest moment of triumph, the 1983 NCAA title he won with North Carolina State.
While at the tournament in Minneapolis with fellow ESPN announcer Dick Vitale, Valvano complained of pain.
“Jimmy would always stand up and say, ‘Dick, my back is hurting, my damn back is hurting,’ ” Vitale said. “It was a little ache. At that time, obviously, the back was probably a warning that something was not right.”
Valvano was examined for a herniated disk and finally underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam to locate the problem. The test was positive for cancer.
“All around the backbone showed black,” Bobby Valvano said.
Jim Valvano asked the doctors for statistics and percentages.
“He said, ‘Give me a reason to be excited,’ ” Bobby said, “ ‘then I’ll tell myself, “Hey, I’m going to be one of those 5%.” But nobody will speak that way. . . .”
When the diagnosis came in, Vitale wept with Valvano on the telephone. Vitale since has called Valvano frequently.
“He told me, ‘I’m going to fight and battle this thing before it knocks me out,’ ” Vitale said.
Valvano is staying with a relative in Manhattan while he receives chemotherapy as an outpatient.
“It’s the type of chemo where he will lose his hair in two to three weeks,” Bobby said.
Throughout the ordeal, the familiar wisecracking Valvano has been missing. But once in a while, humor returns.
“Before he went in for chemo, the pain pills were working and he would sit there and feel absolutely fine,” Bobby said. “He said, ‘I have got to be the healthiest cancer patient in the world.’ It was a little bit of levity about the whole thing, and that was good.”
Valvano lives in Raleigh, N.C., but will stay in New York for now. Sloan-Kettering has become his best hope.
Said Bobby: “He said, ‘I need to stay here because they have stories here.’ ”
He meant success stories.