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Ron Artest had ice on nearly every part of his body Sunday afternoon at Kings practice, from his shoulder to both knees and even a cold pack he wore on his hip.
But the bumps and bruises are nothing compared to the heartache Artest and his family have felt recently. In an exclusive interview with The Bee, the Kings small forward revealed that his 4-year-old daughter, Diamond, has a cancerous Wilms' tumor on her kidney.
The youngest of Artest's four children has already undergone surgery and a biopsy at the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, and she began chemotherapy on Thursday before heading home. The tumor will need to be shrunk by way of chemotherapy before doctors can consider whether to remove it. Normally, doctors would remove the cancerous tumor and kidney, but Diamond was born with just one kidney, Artest said.
"The good thing about it is there's a 90 percent chance survival rate," said Artest, who has made two trips to Indiana since Nov. 21 to be with his daughter and missed one game. "It's a curable cancer, so that's something to look forward to. She's getting chemo. She's a tough girl. She's not really complaining too much ... . My baby's precious. It's in God's hands."
Luckily, she complained a little. Diamond, who lives with Artest's wife, Kimsha, in Indiana, told her mother about stomach pains enough times that they headed for the hospital in mid-November.
"We'd give her Pepto-Bismol," Artest said. "But the last time she complained, we just took her in."
The doctors felt a lump in her stomach and performed tests, eventually discovering she had a Grade 3 Wilms' tumor.
"We got lucky (in discovering it), but I wish we would've caught it at (Grade) 1," Artest said. "It was tough on her. It was tough on everybody. Everybody loves Diamond. I couldn't talk about it at first. I just wanted to get more info from the doctors."
And, of course, from the Internet. Artest said he spent sleepless nights browsing Web sites learning about Wilms' tumors, which primarily affect children and are named after a 19th-century German surgeon who recognized that the cancer develops from immature kidney cells. The tumor strikes one in 10,000 children, according to the Institute of Cancer Research.
Artest said he learned about the survival rate, about how – according to the American Cancer Society – 92 percent of patients live at least five years beyond their time of diagnosis and how approximately 500 new cases arise in America each year.
Those who've met Diamond know she's as vibrant as her name suggests, a side of her that was on display during Las Vegas summer league in July. As Artest sat courtside watching his younger Kings teammates with all four of his children, a rambunctious Diamond drew a scold from Artest. In between fistfuls of popcorn, Diamond rolled her eyes like a mini diva and forced a smile from her relenting father. The sickness, Artest said, hasn't changed her spirit.
"It was tough; it still is tough," he said. "But she's tough enough to get through it. She'll say, 'I feel OK – why am I still (in the hospital)?' She doesn't understand. She's only 4 years old."
Basketball, Artest acknowledged, just doesn't seem as important. He'd rather stay by his daughter's side in Indiana, helping the family through this time while praying for progress. But after a season in which his off-court troubles marred an otherwise-strong showing in 2006-07, he was already behind this season because of the seven-game suspension that officially ended that chapter. What's more, he is in a contract year, able to opt out of his deal this summer and looking to rebuild his reputation on and off the floor.
"It's tough because this season is the second-most important thing right now," he said. "If everything (else) was OK, then the season would be the most important, as far as career and your profession ... . But right now, my daughter's first and my career's second."
He's fulfilled both duties recently, scoring at will for most of his eight games played while defending with the sort of ferocity that earned him the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year Award. And even with the extra burden of his family situation, the player known for staying after practice for extra work continues to log extra hours. Saturday, he was simply trying to catch up with his teammates, landing via commercial plane at 11:30 a.m. in Sacramento and heading straight to the team's shootaround for that night's game against Houston.
Kings coach Reggie Theus said the circumstances mean he'll continue to let Artest dictate his own schedule.
"I think he's got his priorities in line, but I think it's a tough job because he knows he's got to be there (in Indiana), and yet he's coming back and forth," Theus said. "We're sort of trying to get an idea of what his thinking is. As long as he has us on his mind in terms of what we need from him and he's trying to make it work, you just can't make this the priority. I appreciate it, and I know the team does."
Artest said he might look at arranging treatment for his daughter in Northern California and bringing her to Sacramento. But for now he'll monitor Diamond's chemotherapy treatments in Indiana with lots of phone calls and visits whenever she comes calling.
"A lot of guys asked me: 'Why are you back? Why are you playing?' " Artest said. "If my daughter needs me, then I'm leaving. If she's OK, then I'm going to come play."
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