Dick Harmon: Hope is a real thing for BYU basketball coach Dave Rose on Father's Day

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 8:20 p.m. MDT

BYU coach Dave Rose, his daughter Chanell Reichner and granddaughter Annie Reichner at Madison Square Garden, where the Cougars played in the Final Four of the NIT this past March. (Courtesy Chanell Reichner) BYU coach Dave Rose, his daughter Chanell Reichner and granddaughter Annie Reichner at Madison Square Garden, where the Cougars played in the Final Four of the NIT this past March. (Courtesy Chanell Reichner)

Right before Father's Day four years ago, Dave Rose received the scare of a lifetime.

On June 5, 2009, the BYU basketball coach got so sick on a flight from California to Las Vegas — where he was going for his wife's family reunion after a family vacation to Disneyland — he couldn't even sit up. An ambulance met his plane on the tarmac to take him to the hospital, where doctors removed a large tumor that had spread to his spleen from the tail of his pancreas.

Tests at the Huntsman Cancer Institute revealed a neuroendocrine tumor, a rare form of pancreatic cancer. According to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, his kind of pancreatic cancer is "the only form that can be successfully treated."

Because the cancer had spread to his spleen and lymph nodes, he can never be considered cured and must be tested every six months. Each time he’s declared NED, or “No Evidence of Disease,” Rose is given a new lease on life.

This Sunday, Rose will gather around his children, where they will try very hard to bring him gifts they feel he would like. He’s hard to shop for because he has everything, especially what matters most — his presence in their presence.

His oldest daughter Chanell Reichner, who lives in Spokane, Wash., explains the gift-giving conundrum this way:

“Father’s Day is definitely one of my least favorite holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad — in fact I would consider myself a genuine daddy’s girl. The reason I really hate Father’s Day is my dad is impossible to buy gifts for. It’s also why I hate his birthday and it even puts a serious damper on my Christmas spirit. My dad has no hobbies — he doesn’t fish, doesn’t read, doesn’t build things, and he only plays golf for charity. He doesn’t need anything. Mr. Mac and Nike outfit him with any apparel he needs.

“I could always buy him a tie, but that’s risky because if he wears it when his team loses it’s going straight to Deseret Industries. We’ve tried to get him creative gifts like a frosty mug for his Diet Coke and practical gifts like emergency kits for his car. We’ve even tried sentimental gifts like framed pictures of his children, but then I just feel silly giving him a picture of myself. The fact is, we all know exactly what my dad wants. It’s what he always wants. He wants to win. But wins are a little tricky to track down and extremely difficult to wrap.”

Dave Rose is a hero to his children. To them, he seems invincible. They see their dad like the poet in Proverbs 20:7, who wrote, “The just man walketh in his integrity; his children are blessed after him.”

When Rose got sick, Chanell was married, her brother Garrett had just gotten married and Dave and Cheryl were expecting their fourth grandchild. The family hadn’t been to Disneyland since the youngest sibling, Taylor, who was entering high school, was in preschool.

That day four years ago, invincible took a hit. A man who played on the University of Houston’s famed Phi Slamma Jamma team was down.

“As I watched my dad get sicker and sicker in the hospital in Las Vegas, it was very unsettling for our entire family,” said Chanell.

“My dad didn’t get sick. He didn’t get hurt. He once water skied at Lake Powell with a ‘stomachache,’ only to find out his appendix was about to rupture. My dad was strong, so as we watched him suffer we were all very scared. We all hoped it was nothing, but I think we all knew it was serious. I sat by my dad’s bedside so my mom could take a break. My dad laid there with his eyes closed, but he wasn’t sleeping. I knew he was suffering. And I had the thought that he was a ticking time bomb. Something terrible was coming.

“The next few days were a blur. I don’t remember how it happened and in what order it happened, but he almost died because of internal bleeding caused by a mass that turned out to be a tumor. He had surgery to remove the tumor that turned out to be cancer and as he was recovering from the surgery he suffered from a pulmonary embolism and almost died again. Then we were told he had pancreatic cancer. And all I remember after that are tears, sickness, panic and fear. So much fear.

“All I wanted to do was help. I wanted to do anything to make this better for him and my mother and my little brother and sister. I left my girls at home with my husband and flew to Salt Lake to be at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I tried to do anything to help, but I felt completely and utterly helpless. What could I give him to make this better? I had no clue. It felt exactly like my frustration and stress from all those years of trying to buy him a gift — except this time the stakes were so much higher. This wasn’t a holiday. This was life and death. What could I give him to help him with this fight?”

The angst that filled the Rose family, by extension, ran its course through his BYU family: administrators, coaches, players and fans.

In this trying time, Chanell found something she could give, something all fathers need — whether they're sick, struggling with work, finances, bills, wayward children or whatever it is that fathers find themselves needing at times.

“It came to me — I could give him the gift of hope," said Chanell. "Because hope is the opposite of fear, and when I’m full of hope the fear disappears. Fear is heavy and it’s contagious. When we were afraid, my dad could feel it and he felt bad for causing us those feelings. But hope is also contagious. If one person can have the tiniest bit of hope, it will soon multiply and spread and drive the fear away. I know my dad needed every ounce of strength and energy to get better. And so I decided that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. For an early Father’s Day gift in 2009 I gave my dad hope, and you know what that hope turned in to? My dad turned that hope into the biggest win of his life — a win over cancer.”

Since that dark flurry of days four years ago, Rose has been honored all across the country for his courage and example. He was the MWC Coach of the Year, the USBWA District Coach of the Year and Naismith Coach of the Year finalist in 2011. He took the Cougars to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1981 that year, and he coached the NCAA’s consensus player of the year in Jimmer Fredette. In 2012, he took BYU to its sixth NCAA tournament appearance in a row, a school record.

When I approached Chanell, Garrett and Taylor to share their feelings about this trial and their father, Chanell said it is tough to do because she knows how rare it is to have a happy ending when it comes to pancreatic cancer. There are many families that have lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children.

“But I’ve also learned that this lesson in hope is universal, that having hope is even more critical in those times where the miracle didn’t come and our loved ones didn’t live. I’ve learned this as I’ve lost an aunt to breast cancer, a sweet 3-year-old cousin to a brain tumor, and my mother-in-law, who was my daughter's “Yia Yia,” to breast cancer as well. I miss them every day. Nothing changes that.”

The Rose children say the experience has changed their lives for the better.

“I can't really pin point one thing that's better about my dad because he has always been my favorite person in the whole world,” said Taylor. “People probably think we just say nice things about my dad, but it's not just talk. My dad is incredible. He will always look at other people and try to help them before he looks at his own situation. He wants the best for everyone around him.”

Coach Rose speaks publicly of his experience with the theme that he is now “more appreciative of everything,” including his family, wife, kids, job, house and everything he does minute to minute. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel fortunate that I get to do what I’m going to do that day.”

Chanell says the experience has changed her, teaching her to love more and appreciate important people in her life, especially her father.

“I know how much he wants to help people who are facing similar challenges. I can’t tell you how many times he has visited a hospital with a Jimmer jersey and an autographed basketball to go see a BYU fan who is battling for their life. He takes a player or two with him and he tries to say something to inspire or just make them smile. Occasionally I’ve taken it upon myself to be my dad’s unpaid public relations agent, and I’ve told him he should invite the media to some of these. He told me he would never do that because ‘that’s not the point.’ And then he fired me — just kidding.

“But he did make his point clear. He doesn’t visit these kids because he feels bad for them or because he wants to serve them. He goes to these kids because he’s been there. He knows exactly how it feels. He understands what they’re feeling and he wants to help. That compassion and empathy is something my dad acquired during his own battle with cancer. And as he battled for his life, I found the hope in mine."

The Rose kids have had a lifetime of feeling the glow of the competitive fire that courses through their father. From Go Fish to backyard hoops, they have to win. He taught his kids to water ski, how to mow the lawn, how to rebound, and to enjoy the thrill of a courtside seat, where they cheer on their father as he plies his craft in Division I basketball games. Of all the things he's taught, he has brought them the gift of hope.

“This year for Father’s Day I think I’m going to take the risk and pick out a lucky tie," said Chanell. "Hopefully he’ll be able to wear it a few times before it ends up at the nearest thrift shop."

Concluded Taylor: “This is probably selfish of me, but I picture my dad coaching basketball the rest of my life. He has given me the greatest life and I am so glad that he can be in the spotlight sometimes because he deserves all the credit in the world. My dad is an amazing basketball coach and a wonderful person, but most of all my very best friend.”

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company