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Doug Robinson: BYU basketball: Dave Rose is beating the cancer odds

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 27 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

BYU coach Dave Rose survived a near-death experience with pancreatic cancer last summer. He's now directing one of the most successful seasons in BYU basketball history.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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In the aftermath of the Summer of Cancer, neither Dave Rose nor his wife Cheryl can quite bring themselves to say it without some understandable trepidation and hesitation. But there is some part of them that feels ... well, grateful for the terrifying experience they have lived these past few months.

Rose, the BYU basketball coach and father of three, smiles more. He does things he never used to do. He's home in time for dinner during the basketball season. He takes his daughter to school. He doesn't disappear from family life during the season. He and his family live more in the moment. "Today is a good day," Cheryl likes to say around the house.

Sitting in a room in the Marriott Center on Monday morning, Cheryl was moved to tears when she said, "You never want to say you're grateful for cancer. We were fortunate; there are so many others who have had nothing good come out of it. But we're so grateful we have that perspective, and I don't know if we would have gotten it any other way."

Rose shrugs off the basketball losses that once ate at him, although these days he hasn't exactly been tested much on that front. As fate would have it — or perhaps it is some cosmic sense of balance — just six months after Rose was diagnosed with cancer and lying in a pool of his own blood staring at a death sentence, he is leading the greatest basketball season in the history of the school.

The Cougars are 20-1 heading into an always-difficult road game at New Mexico tonight, and ranked as high as No. 10 in the national polls.

"One of my challenges was to convince others I was up to this," says Rose with a wry smile. "I've used this line before, but now the players are playing to protect me so they can keep my health in a positive direction."

When Rose discusses his cancer, he talks about it in the present tense. It's not something he had it's something he has. Because the cancer left the source where it originated (pancreas), he can never be considered "cured," but it is treatable and it is unlikely to return for years to come. Every six months he undergoes a CAT Scan to determine if the cancer has returned. Each time he reports for a scan, the butterflies return, but so far he has passed the tests.

There are constant reminders of his good fortune. The same week he reported for his second scan, Rose saw newspaper stories reporting the deaths of actor Patrick Swayze and NCAA president Miles Brand — both of pancreatic cancer. "I've had three acquaintances who died of it," he says.

Rose knows the score of this game. He knows pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest of cancers. There will be some 42,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer this year. By the time most people are aware of the symptoms, it is usually too late. About 95 percent of pancreatic patients are dead within five years of diagnosis and 80 percent of those are dead within a year.

"It was quite a summer," says Rose wistfully, sitting in his office. "There were a couple of days that were pretty intense."

What was going on? Rose, a man who had hardly been sick a day in his life and never missed a day of work, was laid out flat on his back, unable to walk or even sit up. The family was on a plane flying from California to Las Vegas for a family reunion when he started to feel nauseated and dizzy... His wife and daughter moved to adjacent seats so he could lie down across all three seats.

The symptoms were the same as those he had experienced a day earlier when he and his family were at a theme park. At the time, he believed that maybe the hot June sun had left him dehydrated or maybe he had the flu. He sat on a bench and finally laid down on the bench. Eventually, he left his family and returned to the hotel to rest.

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