PHOENIX – It started with a lump on his neck.
When his aunt noticed it, Washington State guard Myles Rice didn’t worry. But after a biopsy in September determined he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, his life took an unexpected turn.
Rice’s story is particularly poignant during Suits and Sneakers Week, an event that showcases college basketball coaches across the nation wearing athletic shoes with their suits during games to raise cancer awareness. The Arizona State men play the Cougars Saturday in Pullman, Washington, and among those watching will be Rice, whose cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic, occurs when white blood cells called lymphocytes grow abnormally and form tumors throughout the body.
He is undergoing chemotherapy and said Thursday that while the first two treatments “were rough,” he is doing much better and hopes to return to the court next season.
Part of the ongoing fight against cancer includes education and awareness. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) committed to that mission nearly three decades ago and has raised more than $145 million for the American Cancer Society through its Coaches vs. Cancer program. Suits and Sneakers Week wraps up Sunday.
Among the coaches participating is Arizona State University men’s coach Bobby Hurley, whose grandfather lost a battle with lung cancer.
“I remember him sitting at my Little League games, and then a few years later he was gone,” Hurley said. “Any time we can bring awareness to (cancer), that’s a cause certainly worthy. Any money that can be generated, we’re hoping we can do the best we can to support it.”
Joining Hurley and 49 others on the Coaches vs. Cancer roster is longtime college basketball coach Lon Kruger.
Kruger lost his father to cancer 25 years ago. Since then, he learned that had his father been diagnosed today, he would have survived it thanks to advancements in medicine and research, advancements made possible because of organizations like Coaches vs. Cancer.
“Coaches throughout the country for the last 30 years have used their platform to not only raise dollars but to advocate for others to get involved in the fight,” Kruger said. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the fight but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Part of improving odds of survival is staying up to date on cancer screenings. During the pandemic, especially early on, there was a rapid decline in cancer screening. The 5.8 percentage-point decrease between 2012 and 2020 represents roughly 4 million people.
According to the CDC, 22 states didn’t meet the Healthy People goal of 70.5% of the population screened for colorectal cancer.
“(Our campaign is) just encouraging people to get screened,” Kruger said. “To win the battle, early detection is the most important thing … and, hopefully, it allows people to live longer.”
NABC executive director Craig Robinson said in a press release that “Suits and Sneakers Week brings our game together in support of a common cause. Our goal this week is to bring much-needed attention to the importance of early detection and to remind those facing cancer that they are never alone in the fight.”
That is Rice’s mission, too, and although he won’t be on the floor Saturday to contribute points, he’ll be giving back, his coaches say, in a much more important way.