Pancreatic cancer strikes BYU coach

Published June 17, 2009 9:29 pm
With no apparent plans to step down, Rose tells his players, 'Guys have battled this and won.'
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Less than two weeks ago, BYU men's basketball coach Dave Rose was visiting with potential recruits, preparing to put on his annual summer basketball camps and generally feeling healthy, rested and energetic.

"He looked great, wasn't mentioning any health problems at all," said assistant coach John Wardenburg.

But while at a family reunion in Las Vegas on June 6, Rose began feeling severe pain in his abdomen and experienced internal bleeding. His spleen and a portion of his pancreas were removed during emergency surgery at a nearby hospital. Last week after tests at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City, the Cougars' four-year coach learned that his condition was far more serious than originally believed.

Rose, 51, has pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor cancer, a rare form of pancreatic cancer, which is not as deadly as the most prevalent form, a leading cause of cancer death, according to http://www.mayoclinic.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.mayoclinic.com.

Some big names have had the same form of cancer and survived. Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Inc., was diagnosed in 2004 with a neuroendocrine tumor similar to Rose's and underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy in July 2004 that successfully removed the tumor.

Rose met with his players at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the team room at the Marriott Center to deliver the news, although many were already aware that his condition had turned life-threatening.

"Guys have battled this and won," he reportedly said.

"It was just wonderful to see him and hear from him," Wardenburg said. "He's in great spirits. That's all I can tell you."

Rose told the players about Jobs, and gave no indication that he plans to step aside as the Cougars' coach. A BYU news release said that in the near future, "doctors and the Rose family will determine a course of action for treatment. He is now recuperating at home."

Contacted in Arizona, where he is working out and preparing for a career in professional basketball, former BYU player Lee Cummard said he began getting text messages and "hearing whispers" about Rose's cancer in the middle of last week.

"Initially, I was sick to my stomach, had that knot-in-my-stomach feeling," Cummard said. "From the updates I've gotten [Wednesday], though, I'm getting a little more optimistic."

Cummard added: "If anybody can overcome it, I put my money on coach Rose."

Coincidentally, Rose has been the honorary chairman of the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation and works with his wife, Cheryl, to annually serve and comfort families who are raising a child who has cancer.

At the Marriott Center on Wednesday, "guys were just thrilled to see him," said Tim LaComb, director of basketball operations. "They were really taken back, obviously. A lot were very, very upset. Our guys would run through a wall for coach Rose."

Jim Boylen, coach of BYU's chief rival, the University of Utah, expressed sorrow, shock and disappointment upon hearing the news Wednesday afternoon.

"This goes way beyond basketball and the rivalry," Boylen said. "It's about a man who I respect and compete against at the highest level....It's tough."

Boylen said Utah "wishes him the best. We will be praying for him down here, my family. And we're expecting him to recover. I know he's a fighter, he's a tough guy, and I'm expecting him to be coaching his team in the fall."

Rose played at Houston from 1980-83 and was head coach at Dixie State College in St. George from 1990-97 before joining Steve Cleveland's staff in 1997 as an assistant. He replaced Cleveland as head coach in 2005 when Cleveland took the Fresno State job.

Rose and his wife have three children and two grandchildren.

"Coach Rose is a beloved member of our campus community. We ask all members of the BYU family, as well as coach Rose's many friends and colleagues, to keep him in their thoughts and prayers at this time," said BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson in the school news release. "We are grateful for the care he has received and is now receiving."

While Rose undergoes medical treatment, the BYU coaching staff comprising Wardenburg, Dave Rice, Terry Nashif and LaComb will run the day-to-day basketball operations, including the summer basketball camps that resume next week.

drew@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">drew@sltrib.com

Tribune sportswriter Michael C. Lewis contributed to this report.

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