Dick Harmon: BYU's Dave Rose and the story of Don McCandless
God has granted Dave Rose another year to live.
And that should open every discussion and put in perspective every angle of his role as BYU’s basketball coach in seasons to come.
There are more important things than the games we play. And cancer is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your title is, how many friends you have, what kind of life you’ve lived, whether you are loved or hated. When it comes, it comes.
It’s been three summers since Rose found out he had pancreatic cancer. And he lives. It is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, and while I’m sure there are other survivors, I don’t know any.
Every six months, Rose undergoes tests to determine if his cancer has returned. Every six months, he gets uneasy. Since his diagnosis, he has changed priorities in his life, looks at everything through a different prism.
The Rose story opens up an opportunity to tell you about my neighbor and friend, Don McCandless of Orem.
This summer, Don, an avid outdoorsman, golfer, lawyer, man of faith, doer of great deeds, father and husband, got out of his truck on a dirt road near Lake Powell, where he was headed with his boat. An undercut bank in the road gave way and he seriously broke his leg, requiring surgery.
Never did he imagine in his wildest dreams that this bad break was only the beginning.
Just under two weeks ago, Don felt very ill. Some say he’d been a little depressed. He had stomach issues, something just wasn’t right. On a walk around our block, a neighbor, Kim Stewart, remembers asking Don how he was doing and he said he just hoped to get home. His wife, Karen, a third-term Orem City councilwoman, was in California on that day.
Within a few days, Don, only 53 and an active and avid runner, was in the hospital in a coma after suffering two strokes. With swelling on his brain, few questioned if he would ever come out of the coma, and doctors said he’d suffered serious brain damage.
In just over a week’s time, it was evident Don McCandless was not coming back. Doctors discovered he had lesions on his liver. After further investigation, doctors told Karen he had stage four cancer. It had metastasized and spread through most all of his organs.
It was left to Karen and her family to decide to remove his respirator last Friday and did so at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. Later that night, Don McCandless passed from this world.
For many a night on this earth, I’ve looked at the stars on a campout with our church youths with Don McCandless. One time near Fish Lake, when I’d rushed from work to camp and forgot some food, he pulled out a can of stew and tossed it my way. I’ve put my fishing line in an ice hole he’d drilled, I’ve been on his boat, shared fishing tales, golf tales, traded opinions about BYU football and basketball and sat behind him and his family on the fourth bench, left front side of our chapel. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the fact his funeral is Friday and my promise to take him golfing when his leg is healed will never happen in this lifetime.
His death has stunned our neighborhood, and as I’ve talked to those who know Don, we are all humbled to the core about our own mortality and if we really have our lives in order if it came our time to go.
I bring up the story of Don McCandless because there are many just like him in this world who exit way before their time.
I bring this up because Monday, Dave Rose took part in the West Coast Conference media day in Los Angeles. He talked of the upcoming season, his hopes and goals for his team.
I bring up Don because of the words Dave Rose’s wife Cheryl told our newspaper two Januarys ago with tears in her eyes: "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."
I bring this up because when the time comes to second-guess Rose over a game plan or execution of a set of plays at crunch time or his team’s failure to win a game or advance in a tournament, it will always be with the knowledge that that stuff really doesn’t matter.
The fact that Dave Rose is alive, that he can kiss his wife and hug his children and grandchildren, that he can go to work and drive home at night and have dinner with his family well, it is simply the greatest blessing of all.
On this day, I mourn Don McCandless; I salute Dave Rose. And I say to you, take nothing for granted in this life.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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