Stuart Scott’s Words at the ESPYS Hit Home

(originally published on More Than A Fan on July 20, 2014)

When used properly, words can be one of the most powerful tools we as humans possess. There have been many examples in the world of sports, with two of them coming from men who stood on the stage at the ESPYS during their battles with cancer.

In his 1993 speech at the ESPYS, Jim Valvano was awarded with the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. When the then-46-year-old he took the stage, he delivered what has now become one of the most famous speeches in sports history. While the entire speech was heart-wrenching as the coach would succumb to his cancer less than two months later, there were seven words that highlighted it all. When announcing the new “Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research,” Valvano said that the foundation’s motto would be “don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Mom hospitalThose seven simple yet profound words have been repeated numerous times in the last 21 years, and this year’s ESPYS were no exception, as they were the basis of how Stuart Scott began his speech when he was presented with the 2014 “Jimmy V Perseverance Award” named for Valvano.

“Every day I am reminded that our life’s journey is really about the people who touch us. When I first heard that I was going to be honored with this award, the very first thing I did was (opens mouth). I was speechless. Briefly. I have presented this award before. I have watched in awe as Kay Yow and Eric LeGrand and all these other great people graced this stage. And although intellectually, I get it – I am a public figure, I have a public job, I am fighting cancer, hopefully I am inspiring – at my gut level, I really didn’t think I belonged with those great people.

“I listened to what Jim Valvano said 21 years ago. The most poignant seven words ever in any speech anywhere – don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Those great people didn’t. Coach Valvano didn’t. So to be honored with this, I now have a responsibility to also not ever give up.”

A little while later, Scott gave what to me was the most important part of his speech. In a recorded piece, Scott had said that he was beating his cancer because he was still alive. But when he took the stage, he wanted to amend that statement.

“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like Hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”

It was then that Scott told a story about the prior 10 days, when he was in the hospital battling complications from his cancer. He revealed that he had undergone four surgeries in his latest hospital stay and had suffered from liver and kidney failure. He wasn’t even sure if he would make it to the ESPYS to accept the award in person. But when he didn’t feel like he could fight anymore, there were plenty of people who stepped up and took part in the battle.

“I couldn’t fight. The doctors and nurses could. The people that I love – my friends and family – they could fight. My girlfriend who slept on a very uncomfortable hospital cot by my side every night – she could fight. The people that I love did last week did what they always do – they visited, they talked to me, they listened to me, they sat silent sometimes. They loved me.”

As I sat and listened to Scott’s speech, I did so with tears rolling down my face. Not just because the speech was so good and unbelievably moving, but because it reminded me of my mom fighting for years the way she did. We would be celebrating my mom’s 65th birthday next week had she not passed away in February 2011. While my mom didn’t pass away from cancer, she did pass away after a long battle with hepatic , and the same principles that Scott laid out in his speech applied in her situation as well.

Scott spoke for a little over seven minutes, with each and every word so perfectly thought out, so eloquently expressed. But it was those few passages that stuck with me because of my mom. She never stopped fighting, even when it was painfully obvious that the fight was almost over. And when the fight was finally over, I felt as if she had come out as the winner, even if the battle took her life.

My mom had a stubborn side, and this fight only brought that out even more. When she left the hospital in January of 2013 after having a diagnosis of COPD added to her cirrhosis and she left the hospital only with the aid of oxygen, her stubbornness shone through like never before. She was determined not to let this get her down, and she succeeded. When we would talk, it was never “IF I get off this oxygen,” rather it was always “WHEN I get off this oxygen.”

She hated that she needed to let me take care of things for her such as going to the store or cooking dinner or cleaning up around the house. While I know she had always complained about such menial tasks, she would have done anything at that time to do them again. But she knew that she had to let me help her fight. Doing unnecessary tasks would only wear her out and slow down her battle, which would make the process even longer and more infuriating.

When what became her final hospital visit turned into a trip from Akron General Medical Center to the Cleveland Clinic, the fight was nearing an end. But that never deterred her from thinking she was going to beat this and get back to living her normal life. She underwent a surgery at the Cleveland Clinic that we were told would take several hours and could be life-threatening depending on how her body reacted. When I saw them rolling her back from surgery 90 minutes later, I feared the worst. The surgery had not lasted long enough to have worked, I thought. However, I was told that she came through the surgery successfully.

I went to see her and while she wasn’t responsive, I told her she was a champion. I told her that WHEN we left the hospital and got her home, I was going to go to the party store and get her a gold medal to wear because she deserved it. I knew that the outlook still wasn’t good and that there would be a long battle ahead to get her home, but I couldn’t let her hear me have doubts. After all, I have that same stubborn side that she did. Unfortunately, she never made it back home.

When my mom was laying in the ICU at the Cleveland Clinic and I had to make the decision to take her off the ventilator and allow her to pass away, I talked to her about the fight. Even though she was non-responsive at the time, I will always believe that she was able to hear the words I was telling her as I held her hand. I told her that I was so proud of the way she fought, how she never gave up even in the darkest moments. I told her that she had kicked cirrhosis’ butt, even if in the end it would be the reason she would no longer be with us. I told her that she could stop fighting now because I was calling the fight. But I also told her something that sounded just like what Scott said at the ESPYS. I told her that just because I was calling the fight didn’t mean she lost. In fact, I told her that I was calling the fight and that she had won by a unanimous decision. She was the champion.

Stuart Scott was right – just because you die doesn’t mean that you have lost the fight. My mom didn’t lose, and Stuart Scott will never lose. No matter what happens from here on out, Scott is and will be a winner. Anyone who didn’t think so before certainly knows it after that ESPYS speech.

Keep fighting Stuart – you have plenty of people fighting with you.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

Advertisements

I Saw A No-Hitter Thanks To My Mom And Her Message

(Originally published on More Than A Fan on July 29, 2011)

My mom was born on July 27, 1949. If 2011 was any ordinary year, I would have stopped by her house this past Wednesday morning with a birthday card and flowers to wish her a happy birthday before making my way to work. Unfortunately, 2011 has been anything but an ordinary year as my mom passed away in February.

Knowing that Wednesday was going to be one of those emotional days, I had already requested the day off work. While I did not have any real plans for the day other than a cemetery visit, I knew work was the last place I wanted or needed to be.

ryan and grandpa 2I woke up and took flowers, balloons and a cup of coffee (mom always did enjoy her coffee) to the cemetery and visited for over an hour. Fighting back the tears, I got in my car and drove out of the cemetery, not sure exactly what I was going to do to keep my mind occupied for the rest of the day.

As I drove off, something kept telling me that I should go to the Indians game since they were playing at noon. At first I was not going to go but something said there would be something special about Wednesday’s game. It was like a scene straight out of Field of Dreams.

I called my grandfather, knowing how much he was struggling with the loss of my mom and also remembering all of those times as a kid that he and I sat down and watched baseball together. I told him the Indians were playing at noon and that I would be there in an hour to pick him up. He seemed excited about the idea, which made me realize it was the right thing to do.

As we made the 45-minute drive to Progressive Field, we talked about my mom and about how strange the day seemed. We talked about baseball, how it is now and how it was back in the day when he was growing up. And of course we talked about Ralph Kiner – there is no baseball conversation with my grandfather that does not somehow come back to his favorite player.

Driving to the ballpark felt like an out-of-body experience. I had yet to tell my grandfather that I had a feeling about the day’s game, a premonition that we were going to see something special. I felt like Ray Kinsella driving Terence Mann to Fenway Park, thinking there would be something amazing but just not sure what it would be.

We arrived at the stadium and I purchased two seats right behind the plate – if something special was going to happen, I wanted a good view.

We watched as the Indians inexplicably scored a run in the bottom of the first without getting a hit. Ezequiel Carrera reached on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar and stole second two pitches later. Michael Brantley flew out to short right and then Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to second, which moved Carrera to third. Carrera then scored on a wild pitch by Los Angeles Angels pitcher Ervin Santana before Travis Hafner struck out.

Turns out, that was Santana’s only mistake of the day. While Indians pitcher David Huff was working on a good game himself, his defense let him down time and time again, committing five errors. Huff did not allow a base hit until the 4th inning, which was the first hit of the day for either side.

As you know, Santana never did allow a hit. And by the 8th inning, I was fully rooting for him to pull it off.

This was my “Moonlight Graham” moment – a possible no-hitter. This was the reason that something kept urging me to take my grandfather to the game – a chance to see baseball history.

I tweeted before the 7th inning that if Santana got through the Indians hitters (Brantley-Cabrera-Hafner) in the 7th without allowing a hit, I would be cheering for him over the final two frames. 10 pitches and three outs later, I was fully behind the pitcher who started the day as the enemy.

When Santana struck out the side in the 8th (with a walk to Lonnie Chisenhall thrown in), I knew he had this thing in the bag. There was no doubt in my mind that Santana was going to throw the ninth no-hitter in Angels history and the first ever at Progressive Field since it opened in 1994.

Santana easily got the first two outs in the 9th and up stepped Brantley, who promptly took a called strike on the first pitch. As Santana was getting the signs from catcher Bobby Wilson, I took out my phone and snapped a photo just as Santana got ready to deliver. Turns out that picture ended up being of the final pitch of a no-hitter, as Brantley flied out to center and baseball history had been achieved.

I looked at my grandfather and his first reaction was to say that we had just witnessed history. With a tear in my eye, I told him he was right. I then looked up and winked at my mom to tell her we got the message – she was still looking out for us like she always had.

Happy birthday mom – and thanks for the gift!

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

My ACL reconstruction surgery went well, but then…

Medical websites are to the world of health care what Donald Trump is to the world of politics – a source of mostly alternative facts and hyperbole that are far too often used to scare rather than to help.

ACL surgery picAnd yet, I still referred to a couple of those sites when I found out that I would need to have ACL reconstruction surgery to repair a torn ACL I suffered while playing basketball. Just as one would expect, the risks were first to pop up when I googled “ACL reconstruction surgery.” Things such as loss of motion, continuous knee pain, infection, and worst of all, blood clots.

My ACL reconstruction surgery was scheduled to take place on Friday, May 5, 2017 at 7:30 a.m. at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General Health & Wellness Center in Montrose with Dr. Jeffrey Yang performing the procedure. The surgery center called me on Thursday to ask me a few medical history questions and to go over some instructions for the following day.

One of the things they covered was that they wanted to give me a nerve block, which would keep the nerve in my leg numb and minimize the pain I felt as I came out of the anesthesia during the recovery process. Or at least that’s how it was supposed to work.

But for me? Yeah, that’s not what happened.

When I woke up after the surgery, I immediately felt an immense pain in my knee. The nurse told me that I did well throughout the surgery and then asked how bad the pain was on a scale of 1 to 10. I responded with “2,000.” She repeated it quizzically. “2,000?” I confirmed the answer with a nod and “yes, 2,000. It hurts a lot.”

She immediately had pain meds administered through my IV, which didn’t really seem to do the trick. After asking me again about my level of pain, she had them give me more pain meds. She was giving orders like one of those medical TV dramas where they are just spewing out names of meds and dosages. It was all happening so fast that something seemed wrong.

I asked when I would be able to see my wife, who along with my in-laws, had accompanied me to the surgery center that morning. I was told I could see her once they were able to get my pain under control. That seemed pretty normal, I thought.

And then it felt more serious.

Next thing I knew, the nurse was taking out an oxygen mask and putting it over my nose and mouth. I had still not 100% come out of the anesthesia so my mind was in a million different places, which made me start to freak me out a little bit over this latest development. While the nurse tried to keep me calm and explain that the oxygen mask was being used to counter all of the pain meds I had been given, my mind started to wander back to those risks I mentioned earlier, specifically the blot clots.

It started to hit me that I could not feel my right foot and I also couldn’t see it because of the blankets that were covering my body. That sent my mind into a dark place and I started wondering if maybe I had experienced blood clots during the surgery and the extent of them forced the surgery team to amputate my foot. I know it sounds crazy, but when you understand the history of blood clots that my father had, it seemed like a fair concern to me at the time.

Once I was convinced that my foot was indeed still attached, I wasn’t quite out of the woods. At the end of the day, it was a simple risk that is associated with anesthesia that made my day miserable, not one that came from the ACL surgery.

Three hours after telling my wife that I had come through the surgery without issues, they finally went out to get her and let her come see me. Once she got back to where I was in recovery, my heart had started racing and now I wasn’t feeling so good. I started to shake and sweat, while also feeling light-headed and dizzy. A few minutes later, I was throwing up.

I continued to throw up for about the next hour before they released me to go home. Despite still showing signs of not getting any better, I was granted my release from the surgery center. Once we returned home, I sat on a chair near the entrance of our bathroom, where I was still shaking and sweating. After throwing up a couple more times, I broke down and started crying. It was a couple of hours before I was finally back to some sort of normal where it didn’t feel like I was going to throw up every five minutes.

The entire ordeal was more than I was expecting and honestly, a little more than I was emotionally ready to handle. I have since tried to remind myself that those side effects were normal and have begun to wrap my mind around the upcoming obstacles I will face.

Now it’s on to what is supposed to be the most difficult part of the ACL reconstruction surgery – the physical therapy. I won’t be looking that one up online.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryanisley23@gmail.com. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.