The focus in the sports world yesterday may have been on which NFL coach got the ax due to a dismal season, but for those of us who have been touched by cancer, it was an opportunity to sincerely reflect. A year ago yesterday, we mourned the death of the larger than life Stuart Scott, who surely would have had his vivacious voice in the mix of all the sports talk had he still been here with us.
Scott would have been proud to see how his well-spoken, big hearted young daughters, Taelor and Sydni, honored him with a fitting, emotional, video tribute to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his passing. After viewing the breathtaking video, I, too, immediately began to reflect about my dad and how Scott impacted my life outside of the world of sports.
Most brothers admired Scott because of his authentic way of sportscasting, adding flavor along with a heavy dose of facts. But, for brothers like me, who have yet to hit the big 5-0, I admired Scott for a different reason. I, too, weathered my own journey with cancer while in my forties.
Scott’s 2014 ESPY Awards acceptance speech, catapulted the seasoned sports journalist to a different level in my world. He became a hero in my eyes and those of many other Black men. This was the first time that a public figure, who happened to also be an African American man from my generation, publicly provided to the world an upfront, honest and raw image of a cancer fighter—the good, the bad and the ugly.
During his speech, Scott candidly shared how days earlier, he laid in the hospital with tubes and wires running out of every part of his body. On one hand, I really wanted to distant myself from this story as he described his experience, but on the other hand, I could relate to almost every word that flowed from his mouth.
It had only been 18 months since I’d heard the words, “no evidence of disease,” or “NED” in the cancer world. Scott’s public chat was just what I needed to hear as I was still healing from my own journey. Unfortunately, I hadn’t totally escaped this hell as I suddenly found myself in the throes of cancer again. This time it wasn’t my journey, but that of my father.
Watching Scott that night, he couldn’t have realized that he gave Black men permission to cry and reach out to those who I call my “Guardian Angels,” who were there when the fight became too much. It was the first time many of us got to hear and understand what it was like dealing with a life changing situation that had nothing to do with a sports injury. Cancer sneaks up on you like a thief in the middle of the night. It unravels your life in its prime, with no warning.
Those heartfelt words conveyed at the ESPY’s were not a sign of weakness, but as sign of strength and freedom. It allowed anyone who had or would be traveling this path to know they could let their guard down. Scott also showed us how to live a life to the fullest in the midst of a turbulent storm. It is what I hoped my dad gleaned from the speech when I privately shared with him.
After reading Scott’s memoir, Every Day I Fight, I found a statement that was extremely useful in dealing with my dad’s diagnosis. Before his death, Scott, who was struck with cancer three times, revealed how his older sister pulled him aside during one of his earlier bouts, letting him know if he was tired, he did not have to fight anymore. I found myself using those exact comforting words when I finally realized how physically and emotionally tired my dad was from battling the disease. My family knew he had lived a fulfilled and meaningful life, but my gut instincts, as someone who had traveled down a similar lane, said it was time to let my dad know he no longer needed to stay alive for us. Dad’s withering body simply couldn’t take all the blows and punches that cancer was constantly throwing at him. Months later, after what I assumed to be series of personal conversations with God and my mom, his soul mate of 55 years, my father decided to stop all treatments.
No one wants to see a loved one go through the suffering of cancer or any long-term illness. It begins to take a toll on everyone. But because of Scott’s candor and wisdom, he provided my dad and I with a personal playbook of how to best handle cancer, both for the long suffering patient and for the person who loves them.
Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst, a radio host and editor of a car-buying website for women and minorities. For more on Jeff, drive over to JeffCars.com or follow him on Twitter @JeffCars.