Flip Saunders Fighting Cancer

Minnesota Timberwolves coach and General Manager Flip Saunders has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the white blood cells. Saunders was diagnosed 8 weeks ago by Timberwolves Vice President of Team Medical Services Sheldon Burns. According to the Timberwoves team statement, chemotherapy treatment began immediately.

Saunders is being treated at the Mayo Clinic and he thanked his providers.

“I want to thank Dr. Burns as well as my medical team at the Mayo Clinic for their hard work in diagnosing my situation and creating a plan to help me achieve a cancer-free plan.”

Hodgkin’s Lyphoma is the less common form of the lymphatic system cancer. Only 1% of all cancers are Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma disease presents itself in young adults (15-35) and in those over 55 years old. Saunders is 60. The five year survival rate is 85%.

Last December, Kansas City Chiefs safety, Eric Berry ,was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Berry is back at training camp this year. Hockey great Mario Lemieux was also diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as was baseball player Anthony Rizzo.

Saunders began a college coaching career in 1977 in Minnesota. Eleven years later he left college where he was an assistant at Tulsa to coach the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). He won two CBA championships with the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He was also Coach of the Year twice. In 1995, he was hired as the General Manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves and drafted Kevin Garnett. Six months later he was the head coach. He also coached the Washington Wizards and was John Wall’s first coach. SaundersĀ returned to the Timberwolves in 2014.

It’s Saunders intention to coach this year. There are ten weeks before the regular season begins, enough time for Saunders to complete his chemotherapy cycle, regain his strength and prepare for the regular season although it must be noted that chemotherapy presents fatigue, anemia and physiological distress symptoms that can linger past the last treatment cycle, sometimes up to a year.

But there is precedent of coaches overcoming cancer and continuing their jobs. Rutgers women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer coached while she was undergoing chemotherapy and kept it a secret so as not to elicit pity, sympathy or needless worry about her condition. But she admitted to being so tired she could barely get out of bed.

Flip Saunders cancer diagnosis came at a time of supreme optimism for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They snagged the #1 pick in the NBA draft and selected Karl Anthony Towns who they will pair with last year’s #1 pick Andrew Wiggins. They have a jump out of the gym athlete in Zach LaVine, a worthy big man in Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett to inspire and mentor everyone. It feels like the Timberwolves are doing everything right these days.

But, the old saying applies here: God laughs when you are making plans. Things happen you don’t expect. If the doctors are correct in their diagnosis, Flip Saunders will make a full recovery. When that happens, when he looks back on this summer he’ll be able to say with conviction, “I am a cancer survivor.”


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