Yesterday Craig Sager underwent a rare third bone marrow transplant with stem cells, in yet another attempt to treat the aggressive form of leukemia that has afflicted him since 2014. He knows the odds simply aren’t very good. (“I like to bet on horses, I like to bet on dogs,” Sager told the Associated Press. “I’ve bet on a lot of things with a lot higher odds than this.”) He also knows he’s wiling to try just about everything.
“I’ve had every chemo in the alphabet, most of them more than once,” Sager said. “Some of them that aren’t even in the alphabet, they’re just numbers — clinical trials. But I bet if you added all those up it would have to be like 60- or 70-something. I’ve had 23 bone marrow aspirations. Having one isn’t fun and I’ve had 23. So that’s been tough.”
This really is a must-read AP story, alternately cheering and depressing and humbling. The 65-year-old Sager announced in March that his acute myeloid leukemia was no longer in remission, and this latest procedure is another long shot—the doctor who performed it at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, said less than one percent of bone marrow transplants with stem cells are a patient’s third.
One thing to take away from the story, I think, is just how much Craig Sager sounds like Craig Sager. There are usually all kinds of platitudes offered up about people stricken with cancer “battle” or “don’t give up” (I personally hate that sort of terminology), but in this article Sager comes across as funny and warm as ever.
Like when he talks about his latest bone marrow donor, a 20-year-old, likely signed up at one of the omnipresent recruiting drives on college campuses.
“My only thing was I was afraid that when he signed up to be the donor, he may have been in some drunk fraternity house trying to impress his date,” said Sager, with a smile. “And they call him up the next day and say: ‘Want to come down to the hospital?’ and he’s like: ‘What?’”
Or the look on his face when, as the AP photo caption says, “Sager reacts after being told his transplant procedure will take over 10 hours.”
A few days before Sager’s transplant, his wife Stacy came down with a cold. Doctors sent her home, fearing she might give it to her husband. When Charles Barkley heard about this, he hopped a plane and flew to Houston—against his own doctor’s orders, as he’s recovering from hip replacement surgery—just so Sager would have company.
“Craig Sager is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met,” Barkley said. “We go to see Sager to cheer him up and by the time you leave you’re like, ‘Is anything wrong with him?’ He has the most positive attitude ... When you go to try and cheer him up his attitude is so upbeat he cheers you up.”
This is all very sad, because: Craig Sager is probably going to die. You’re not supposed to say or write things like that, because no one likes to be made to think about it. I hate that line of thought, because it’d be better for everyone if we could discuss cancer and illness and dying from a mature and candid perspective. It’s not something to dance around. It’s serious shit, and we should say what we mean.
The way to talk about this stuff without being disingenuous is to remember why it makes you sad: to recall how much you’ve enjoyed Sager’s work over the years, to see the impact he’s had on those who know him by seeing the love he’s getting from family, friends, colleagues, and the general public, and to see if you can’t take some inspiration from Sager’s own stated motivation for seeing his treatment through:
“Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there’s just too many things.”
Read the article, and then maybe see about telling Sager, or really, anyone you love, that you wish for only the best for them.