I had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy Valvano at the 1992 Final Four in Minneapolis. At the time, I was a recovering cancer patient who had just come off of a year-and-a-half of treatment for Rhabdomyosarcoma (a rare muscle cancer). Make-A-Wish had sent me there as a wish request that I had to meet Dick Vitale and go to the Final Four.
Jimmy and Dick were so great to me and my family. I was able to spend a good amount of time with the both of them and was surprised how similar they were to their on-air personalities. Dick is still a dear friend of mine and Jimmy was just like he appeared on TV...very cordial and sincere. However, there turned out to be a dark cloud on the horizon. Throughout the trip, Jim spoke of how he had pain in his back. "My back is killing me" he told Dick many times after their segments were taped. The pain in his back turned out to be the cancer which ultimately took Jimmy V from us much too soon. The irony of that weekend still makes me think. At the time my life was being extended, his was being taken. A year later, I sat with tears in my eyes as I saw him give his famous speech at the 1993 ESPYS.
Over the years I have had a chance to work with the people at the Jimmy V Foundation. I have learned that they have one goal in mind: to end the suffering related to having cancer and make life better for patients. When I was struck with the disease at age 16 in 1990, cancer was considered a death sentence. Through prayer and my faith in God, along with a terrific group of doctors and a very aggressive treatment, I was able to survive. However, because of the awful treatments and barbaric protocols that were needed at the time, I still suffer from the result of my radiation treatments and surgeries. My current disease (Lymphedema) is a direct result of the treatment I had, and causes me to have to work from home because of the constant pain I live with in my right leg.
If the V Foundation had been around when I first got cancer, there might have been other options and treatments that might have spared my body the damaging side effects I now endure. Now, thanks to the countless hours of dedication the V Foundation gives, many young children who are afflicted with the disease have hope for a better future. In December 2001, the V Foundation invited me to New Jersey to attend a basketball game and at halftime Dick Vitale brought me out and told my story to the people in attendance. That night was another time that I thought back to that weekend in Minneapolis in 1992 and wish that I and the world had more time with a man who gave so much of himself to others.
I owe many things to Dick Vitale and the people at the V Foundation. Since we met 1992, Dick has been a true warrior with cancer research and a true, wonderful friend whom I am so blessed to have in my life. If everyone had his heart and desire to see this disease go away, there would finally be a cure. Here's to the Jimmy V Foundation and hoping that their research continues to provide others with the future it has provided me.
Mark Kelly is an ESPN researcher