RIVERSIDE — A tough spring turned into a beautiful summer for the McCaffery family, and it has nothing to do with a basketball court.
Patrick McCaffery, the 14-year-old son of Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery had surgery to remove a malignant tumor on his thyroid on March 19, the day Iowa opened the NCAA tournament. After another surgery and subsequent treatment, Patrick McCaffery had a second scan of his thyroid two weeks ago. It was clear. No additional cancer was found.
“That Friday was one of the best days of my life,” Coach McCaffery said Saturday morning.
McCaffery shared the family’s grueling fight against cancer most of the spring at I-Club banquets and other events. He recalled the support he and the family received from athletes in other Iowa sports to coaches inside and outside the state to cancer survivors regardless of their affiliation.
The family also received a strong advocate in Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Vitale. McCaffery and his wife, Margaret, attended Vitale’s annual gala last month in Sarasota, Fla., to raise money for pediatric cancer research through The V Foundation.
Vitale, McCaffery and Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg participated in The 380 Companies and Dick Vitale Golf and Gala this weekend at Riverside Golf and Country Club. Friday opened with a gala and golf was held Saturday. Each of the celebrities brought their personal touch to the event to raise money for cancer research.
Vitale’s event in Sarasota raised $2.1 million. But Vitale remains baffled and angered that only 4 percent of cancer research targets children. In a passionate interview Saturday morning, Vitale emphasized the need to raise funding for cancer research, especially for children.
“To my last breath — my last breath — I’m going to beg and I’m going to plead with people to give us money for kids who are battling cancer,” Vitale said.
McCaffery’s decision to fly from the NCAA tournament to Patrick’s bedside and then return to coach earned Vitale’s admiration.
“My God, my respect for Fran just went so high, it was unbelievable,” Vitale said.
But for every child who receives good news — like Patrick — there are those who don’t survive. Vitale recognizes children stricken with cancer at his annual gala. He also holds a tribute at the same event memorializing those who didn’t make it from the previous year. He recalls their names, their ages and their interests as if they were his own grandchildren. It tears him apart.
“I’m obsessed with this, guys. I’m obsessed with it,” Vitale said. “I don’t think enough’s being done. I need people to help me.”
Hoiberg lent his emotional support to McCaffery earlier this year and backed it up with a whirlwind appearance in Riverside. Hoiberg spent much of the week in Greece getting acquainted with incoming recruit Georgios Tsalmpouris. Hoiberg flew back on Friday, his wife picked him at the airport and they immediately drove to Riverside.
“I have a unique perspective of this because I’m somebody who benefits from what the heart association goes through,” Hoiberg said. “I’m one of the millions of people around the world that’s a heart disease survivor. So I know firsthand just how these type of events help people like me, like Patrick, who can go out and live an active and normal lifestyle because of these type of events.”
The rivalry in all sports between Iowa and Iowa State is intense. But in the game of life, Hoiberg and McCaffery are on the same side. McCaffery lost both of his parents to cancer. James Pollard, the son of Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard and a friend to Hoiberg’s children, was born with a 10-pound tumor and has fought multiple bouts against cancer. Vitale openly wept this spring when 8-year-old Lacey Holsworth, a fixture at Michigan State basketball games through mid-March, died in early April.
“Obviously this is one fight that brings us all together,” McCaffery said.
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