January 30, 2001

A New Lease on Life

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Last April, Coach Scott Thompson was concerned that his immune system was getting weaker.

After six months of chemotherapy, tests showing cancerous activity confirmed his apprehensions.

Having concealed his cancer from his basketball team throughout the 2000 season, Thompson could no longer postpone the inevitable. On May 12 of last year, he told his players about his battle with colon cancer and of his intention to take the next six months off.

“I felt that it was in my and Cornell men’s basketball’s best interest that I stepped away because it had really affected me last season and I think it reflected the way I coached and how we performed,” Thompson said.

In the six months preceding his announcement, Thompson made a pledge to himself and his family that he would better himself physically and mentally to beat the cancer. He exercised more, ate healthier and whole-heartedly embraced life. His improved outlook precipitated his passionate involvement in Coaches vs. Cancer, a national organization designed to raise funds for cancer research.

Norm Stewart, the former head coach at the University of Missouri who survived colon cancer, helped start Coaches vs. Cancer in 1993. Coaches vs. Cancer partnered with the American Cancer Society to raise money and provide educational forums for the public. About 250 coaches across the nation are involved in this program, including Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, whose program raises close to a half a million dollars a year.

“When I came down with cancer, I realized that cancer research and cancer screening has helped save my life,” Thompson said. “I’m very involved in the fight against cancer, especially with the educational programs.”

The coach is a leading spokesperson for Coaches vs. Cancer as he regularly gives speeches advocating the importance of getting an annual physical, especially for those over the age of 40. His cancer was found during a regular checkup, and at the time of the discovery, he exhibited no signs or symptoms.

“If they had found it one year later, we may not be talking right now,” Thompson said.

Besides his involvement with Coaches vs. Cancer, he is working in conjunction with athletic director Andy Noel to boost support for Cornell sports. He speaks to alumni groups endeavoring to garner financial support as well as to pique their interest in the success of Cornell teams.

“I am thankful that Andy has helped me transition in other areas,” Thompson said. “I am so happy to still be involved.”

Since his leave from the basketball team, Thompson’s test and CAT scans have improved significantly. His blood tests show that the cancer is not growing and his doctors feel that if the cancer does not come back within two years of its discovery, his chances of survival are excellent.

Two integral reasons for his success, which are intertwined, are his positive outlook on life and the support of his wife, Rebecca. His wife has been a great strength throughout his battle, which has consequently given him the emotional assistance to have a positive outlook on life.

Nevertheless, many others have had their lives cut short from cancer. Lute Olson, the legendary coach of the Arizona Wildcats and a former coach of Thompson’s at Iowa, lost his wife, Bobbi, this month to ovarian cancer. Thompson later was an assistant on Olson’s staffs at Iowa and Arizona. Other well-known people such as Charles Schultz and Jim Valvano are no longer with us. The list unfortunately keeps going on and on, which is why Thompson is on a crusade to raise money for cancer research.

“I think they will find a cure sometime sooner than later,” Thompson said. “If there is some way we can help, it will save a lot of people.”

Thompson is an inspiration to all those around him. His spirit, dedication and courage throughout this difficult time reflect Thompson’s tireless effort to raise funds for cancer research. This Friday night, when the Cornell men’s basketball team takes on Harvard, University President Hunter Rawlings will be competing against two students and one other fan in a halftime shoot-out, with all proceeds going to American Cancer Society and Coaches vs. Cancer.

To honor Thompson’s involvement in such a beneficial foundation, I ask all of you to come to the game Friday night to support a cause which touches us all.

Archived article by Jason Skolnik