Bob Valvano has cancer — and an entire nation in his corner


Bob Valvano would tell you, in the past year, his talk show on ESPN Louisville radio has been only marginally about sports. I know, because every Wednesday for at least a decade, I’ve called in to talk with Bob, and it has been part sports talk, part current events discussion, and for both of us, part therapy session from time to time.

So when Bob said a couple of weeks ago he’d had some trouble with what he hoped were medication interactions — frightening, vivid and violent dreams that didn’t end when he woke up — it was a concern. And when he announced that he was going to take some time off to address it, and some terrible back pain that may have been at the root of the medicine issues, I felt good that he was taking that step.

On Monday afternoon, he wrote to say that he’d been diagnosed with leukemia, but that he wasn’t sure of its immediate severity or what kind of treatment it would entail. Oh, and he also has an aortic aneurism, which he didn’t go into, but which is a complicated thing to monitor for anyone. And, on top of it, he has damaged kidneys.

But beyond that, and I feel like I can say this not because of any true personal familiarity with Bob but because I know, after being in his orbit to varying degrees since way back when he coached at Bellarmine, other than all that stuff — the cancer and heart issue and kidney stuff and back pain — he’s doing great

Were this his radio show, this is the point at which his son, and producer, Nick Valvano, would inject some kind of little tag, or comment, or something, and the show would then proceed with a discussion of whether it would be more cool to have yourself made into a bobblehead or an action figure. (The correct answer is bobblehead.)

The good news for Valvano’s fans – and a glance at the reaction to his Twitter announcement of his cancer diagnosis Monday should tell you he has many – is that the thinking around the ESPN 680 studios is that he’ll do maybe two or three shows a week when he’s ready, treatment permitting.

Nobody really knows, because his treatment roadmap likely hasn’t been laid out. He told me in a note that he expects to see me around at basketball games, which would be good. Everybody in the college basketball world and even the larger sports world, from former UConn coach Jim Calhoun to radio host Mike Golic, chimed in to make sure Bob knew they are in his corner. It’s a crowded corner.

I have to tell you that you’re never ready to write stories about your friends. I spent several hours looking for pictures of Jody Demling when he went to the hospital with COVID-19, but I never could find all that I thought I had. I did the same with Bob tonight. I know I’ve sneaked a dozen frames of him in recent years. Who knows where they are? Oh, but a bunch of the Jody pictures turned up while I was looking.

So I have no good photos. But the picture I can give you is one you no doubt already have, of a man who is passionate about life, and about doing good, and helping others, and talking to you personally, not just about sports, but about anything under the sun. And then some.

It isn’t lost on me that he and I spent a year talking on radio about and scrupulously protecting ourselves from COVID only for him to have to deal with this stuff. That’s how it has always gone with Bob. You start out in a normal conversation about the transfer portal and wind up discussing a documentary about the real Dr. Pepper from this little town down in Texas.

Wherever the road takes Bob, he always meets it with energy, enthusiasm, intelligent curiosity and a level of generous introspection that lets you know where he’s been, and how he’s doing.

What he has going for him is a really good family, a world of goodwill, and a very near and dear example of what it means to fight this kind of thing. In fact, he reported Monday, his oncologist was a student of a doctor who treated his brother, Jim.

What the rest of us can do is to continue to pray for and encourage him — and one other thing. We can flood the Kentuckiana Friends of V with donations by clicking here. Through his work in that foundation, Bob has brought hope and help to many people who face the same kind of difficult fights he is in. I can’t think of many better ways for those who appreciate him to show it in this time.

The motto of the Kentuckiana Friends of V is Together, We Fight Cancer. Let’s do that.

Get well, Bob. We’re all in your corner.