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Thread: What George Karl is really going through

  1. #1
    Administrator Unclebuck's Avatar
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    Default What George Karl is really going through

    Excellent article, heartbreaking though

    George vs. The Dragon

    By Rick Reilly

    Nuggets coach George Karl is undergoing six weeks of treatment for throat and neck cancer.
    DAY 17:

    Tuesday, March 9, 7:30 a.m. -- Denver Nuggets coach George Karl pops in his mouthpiece and puts on his helmet and braces himself for a brutal 15 minutes, but this isn't football. This is cancer radiation.

    We're at Denver's Swedish Medical Center. The helmet is actually a white, hard-mesh mask that fits to every contour of Karl's big bucket head. It has red crosses all over it, like a hockey goalie's. He lays his 283 pounds on the table and the technicians clamp the mask on hard. How Karl breathes I'll never know. They secure his limbs and ask him to hold a blue plastic donut so no part of him moves. He looks like Hannibal Lecter about to get fried.

    "It makes you a little claustrophobic," the 58-year-old coach tries to say through the mask. "But what are you gonna do? Leave?" Coaching the wildly talented but wildly uneven Nuggets is hard enough, let alone doing it with throat and neck cancer, but that's what Karl is trying to do. Everybody tells him it's not possible, and today, maybe he's starting to believe them.

    With only three of his torturous six weeks of treatment done, and the inside of his mouth looking like he just took 100 bites out of a lava-hot pizza slice, and his head throbbing and his eyes hollow, Karl looks like a guy who should be on a stretcher, not an NBA bench.

    "George, this is only going to get harder," a nurse tells him. "You're not going to feel like working." Clearly, she's never met George Karl.

    He shows me many things I don't want to see. He's doing it because he wants people to know exactly what it's like. Wants to take the fear and mystery out of it for people.

    Suddenly, the huge gray machine whirs like a giant Transformer, turning sideways, first this side, then that, as though it's trying to decide how to eat him. Then it zaps his throat and neck lymph nodes, ravaging them. It gives him a radish-red rash that's covering his face, chest and back. I know. He shows me. He shows me many things I don't want to see. He's doing it because he wants people to know exactly what it's like. Wants to take the fear and mystery out of it for people.

    "The rash is a good sign," says the technician. "It shows the radiation is working."

    "Mine's not bad," Karl mumbles, hardly able to talk. "There's a guy in here who can't even lay his head on a pillow."

    Karl absorbs the machine's worst for 15 minutes every weekday, except on Wednesdays, when he does it for 30.

    Then he goes to work.

    8:15 a.m. -- The coach with the seventh-most wins in NBA history is having a glass of water and looking at film of the Minnesota Timberwolves ahead of the game the next night.

    But we're not in his office. And the water just went into his stomach through a tube in his gut. And the hose from the liter bag of Erbitux, a cancer drug, dripping into his left arm hangs over the laptop he's trying to watch film on. And we're not in his office, we're at the Swedish chemo lab. This is the one day of the week he adds dripping to the zapping. You fight the dragon any way they tell you.

    If there was a DL for coaches, Karl would be the first five names on it. He's not going to get on the team plane this afternoon for Minnesota. He won't coach them there. For a controllisimo like Karl, that's torture.

    "I woke up today thinking of all the things that could go wrong," he tries to say through a mouth that sounds like it's full of rock salt. "Actually, I didn't really wake up. I didn't hardly go to sleep. Couldn't."

    I don't know how your Monday was, but this was Karl's: He'd coached the Nuggets to a 12-point win over Portland the night before. Didn't hit the sack until 1. Got up at 5. Was at the hospital by 6. Had surgery at 6:30 to put in the stomach tube that, coming soon, will be the only way he'll eat. Out of surgery at 7. Radiation at 8. Home by 10. Nap. Then started working on preparing for the Minnesota game.

    His doctors have called his cancer "treatable," but as a prostate cancer survivor from 2005, he knows there's no guaranteed contract with the dragon. Still, he refuses to play the victim card. "Nothing I do is painful," he tells the press.

    But the players know he's lying. They hear him say less every day. It's getting harder to hear him. He almost never yells now. And when you have a team with divas like J.R. Smith and Kenyon Martin, that's hard to believe.

    "I don't think all the guys know what he's going through," says Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups, "but I do. [Billups' mom is a cancer survivor.] We've had a lot of talks. I tell him, 'Take care of yourself. Don't worry so much about us.' But he's stubborn. He's been really inspirational for us."

    9:05 a.m. -- The oncology nurse asks Karl if there's anything she can do for him.

    "Well," he tries to say. "I just think there ought to be somebody all the patients can just beat the crap out of. It's competitive for me. I get so mad, I just want to deck somebody."

    They can't give him that, but they've given him all kinds of drugs for the pain he's going through. ("On a 1-to-10 scale of the most painful cancer treatments," says Karl's hematologist, Dr. David Trevarthen. "This is about a 9.") But Karl won't take the drugs, even though the pain is kicking his butt by about 40 points right now.

    "Have you put on the [morphine] patch?" the nurse asks.

    "No," Karl says.

    "You will."

    During treatment, Karl must remain motionless for up to 30 minutes at a time.
    10:25 a.m. -- Karl keeps looking at the science-fair project going on under his shirt. "I gotta get something to cover my tube," he says to nobody. "Can't let people see my tube when I'm coaching."

    11:15 a.m. -- The Erbitux bag is exhausted and so is Karl. He looks like a man who's lost a fight with a wheat thresher.

    "I can't go to practice," he whispers, changing the day's plan. "I don't want the players to see the rash. That'll get them thinking negatively."

    For only the second time in six seasons, Karl won't coach the Nuggets for a road game. And now he won't even be able to say goodbye. Assistant Adrian Dantley will take over. Get used to it.
    Karl gets up to walk out. Nauseous, he grabs the wall as he turns the corner.


    Wednesday, March 10, 7:05 a.m. -- When Karl comes into the radiation room, he looks like a different guy. Somebody made a switch. This one seems rested. This one is smiling. This one can talk.

    "The patch," he says, grinning. "I feel great."

    The nurse rolls her eyes.

    Karl was going to catch up with the team in Memphis in two days, coach them there, then coach again in Houston on Monday night. "But, man, I'm feeling so good, I might fly to Minnesota today!"

    The Transformer will talk him out of that.

    7:35 a.m. -- Freshly zapped, Karl gets a visit from his oncologist, Dr. Marshall Davis, who comes in wearing a stocking cap. He's got cancer, too -- testicular.

    The doc is a Nuggets freak and he knows there's something secondary at stake here, beyond saving George Karl's life -- getting him back on the bench. "I think this could finally be the year we win it all," the doc says.

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    Karl doesn't fight him. "When we play right, I don't think there's anybody in the league who wants to play us."

    Bonded, the two of them plot out the schedule: Three more weeks of treatment. The worst three weeks. Then at least three -- if not four -- weeks of utter exhaustion. Then -- and only then -- might he be able to coach again. That puts them at about April 26.

    "When does it get intense?" Dr. Davis asks.

    "April 20," says Karl (though the playoffs actually start April 17.)

    Could be a problem.

    For anybody else.

    "I hope my team is ready," Karl says. "I hope I'm ready."

    8:30 a.m. -- By his car, I ask Karl if he's scared to die.

    "I'm scared every day," he says. "Scared all the time. But my kids, my family, my staff, they keep me thinking positive."

    Anything good coming from all this?

    "Oh, yeah. Lots. Sometimes, I feel the sunshine on my face and I just stop and think, 'Damn, this feels good.' I never used to think about sunshine, you know?"

    He fairly beams saying it.

    Guess there's more than one way to radiate.

    Editor's note: George Karl did not feel well enough to join the team in Minneapolis, New Orleans, Memphis or Houston. The Nuggets were 3-1 during the road trip.

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  3. #2
    Denim Chicken duke dynamite's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    That is a very touching interview. It's a shame that he has to go through with this.

  4. #3
    #LanceEffect TMJ31's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    Thanks for posting this.

    Horrible what he has to endure, but I am glad he is taking such a positive outlook.

    My prayers are with he and his family and the Nuggets organization.

    They've been a class act the last couple years, I was REALLY rooting for them against LA last season.

    I really hope that this year they can win it all, that would be a great thing for basketball right now I think.

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  6. #4
    NaptownSeth is all feel Naptown_Seth's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    If you've ever watched someone go through cancer treatment then you know just how brutal this story is. Fear and pain, and fear of what the new pains might mean, and fear of the failure, tons of new discomforts and new pains that will always return thanks to the radiation, even if you "win".

    Let's face it, the "cure" is a scorched earth policy. Usually you'd prefer to fight those kinds of battles on someone else's turf.

    Thanks for posting Buck.

  7. #5
    Fatman the Malevolent
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    Anyone who is interested, please read at your own discretion. Mods, if you feel the need to delete or move this, I understand. This is a related post about some of my mother's experiences with this same treatment.

    My mother went through this, unsuccessfully, roughly 25 years ago.

    May God be with George Karl and his family, friends, and hopefully large support system. He will need them all.

    Things appear to have mercifully changed somewhat in the last 25 years or so with respect to this treatment.

    When my mother went through this, ultimately unsuccessfully, from October, 1985 to January, 1987, they didn't even use masks for the patients. They made the marks directly on the patient's skin with permanent marker without regard to anything appearance wise except guidance accuracy, with strict instructions not to wash those areas, and to avoid even getting them wet if at all possible. They also warned that you would not want them to have to re-mark your skin later in the treatment regimen due to the severe burns and skin damage and breakdown that occurred with radiation treatment (her skin turned somewhat translucent and had the overall feel of late fall leaves that are still on the ground after having been freeze dried repeatedly with no rain having fallen on them to moisten them) due to the severe pain it would inflict even beyond what you experience anyway.

    She made that mistake exactly once...

    As the oncology nurse is telling Karl with respect to his pain medication, if he doesn't want it now, he will. Unfortunately for Karl, I cannot fathom that being otherwise for an extended period of time even after the radiation treatments and chemo stop. Hopefully, he won't have to go through multiple courses of this treatment, either. That worsened things considerably for my mother from both a pain management and overall health and mental function standpoint.

    It also surprises me that they went to the feeding tube right at the start for Karl, and that definitely will help keep him healthier overall with balanced nutrition that will help his healthy tissue heal more quickly as treatment progresses. That was only offered to my mother after she had lost over half of her body weight and was already hospitalized and basically comatose for the final time due to basically not being able to eat or drink at all for an extended period of time. Even liquid supplements and water burned her mouth and throat severely to the point she just cried in agony for long periods of time when she tried to drink them, knowing if she did not that she would die. Just before her last trip to the hospital, she begged my father to just stop giving her any liquid supplements or water because she literally could not swallow any longer even to take the pain medication that did little to ease her pain to start with. Even morphine did little but cause her to hallucinate and lose all coherency though she still was fully aware of her pain and still cried and moaned non-stop, though with a significantly altered voice due to damage to her vocal chords as well as her tongue.

    The horrifically emotional decision to let her stop trying to eat or drink took more out of my father, at the age of 50, than anything else ever did, until he was diagnosed with liver cancer twelve years later and had his own terrifying cancer and treatment experience for a year and a half prior to passing in April, 2001.

    One huge blessing for Karl besides the passage of time and improved technologies and chemo options is the fact that he has something else to consume his mind and keep him from focusing strictly on what he is going through, that being his input into the coaching of the Nuggets even if he is not attending games in person. It will help him focus on living and keep his mind active for as long as possible as opposed to losing his will. That was excruciating to watch with my mother, and I carry my own emotional pain from that to this day at a level that I was unaware of until attempting this post.

    There is a lot more to it than I have posted here, but I am going to stop. It already is too much information, I suspect, and the only reason I posted it here is the fact that George Karl is going through a very difficult, at best, situation and is a coach in the NBA.

    God willing, George Karl will coach from the sidelines again. I highly doubt it will be this year, though, no matter how deep into the playoffs that Denver gets. It would do my heart a tremendous amount of good to see him able to do so, though, to the point I might even root for them to win in the playoffs despite not really liking their style of play very much.

    For those who read this, thank you for reading, and I am sorry to have put you through this emotional post.

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    Shooting for the Moon Day-V's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    Best of luck towards George and his recovery.

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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    I saw this article last week.

    Rick has some really touching stories, but this one was really tough to sit through.

  11. #8
    Member tikitomoka's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    horrible story to hear, but a very well written article... makes me all the more thankful i was able to meet Coach Karl this season

  12. #9
    Twitter: @SuprCityIndyFan PacerGuy's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    My mother was told 3 times she had < 6 months to live. This was in 1984.
    She was told she would never see any of her children graduate High School, let alone go to college or to have a faimly of their own. That was 1984. She underwent treatments where they cut her open & inplanted a radio-active "box" inside her & sewed her back up - only to cut her back open & remove it 5 days later. This happened several times to her. This was in 1984.
    Today my mother is a surviver of 26 years. She has seen her 3 children graduate High School, 2 of 3 graduate college, 2 of 3 get married, and is awaiting the birth of her second grandchind. This is 2010.

    It took my grandmother way to early in life, & has attacked other members of those who I love, respect, & admire. I pray for George and other patients like him, & I pray for Bradd8888 and other families like his who have had to share the pain of their loved ones fight with the "dragon".

    There is hope, and for all those who are fighting (like George). Cancer is a dragon, but even dragons can be slain. Please take a quick moment now & send all of those fighting the good fight your prayers. Thanks, PG
    "Larry Bird: You are Officially On the Clock! (3/24/08)"
    (Watching You Like A Hawk!)

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    100% REAL, 0% OF THE TIME the jaddler's Avatar
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    Default Re: What George Karl is really going through

    Thank you buck for posting. Unfourtentlu my job brings mento deal with sevaral cancer patients. I have seen this with many patients, their pain, their heatache, but I have also been very lucky to meet one that beat it!

    I only wish for the best for coach Karl! I know it is tough, not only to go thru this bit also not be able to be with your team and do your job!

    I jus became a Devenr fan for the rest of the season! I will be rooting for the Nuggets( espically since the Pacers are out) to win the playoffs and possible a championship, not for the owner, not for the franchise, not for the players but for Coach Karl!


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