Craig Sager admits that he’s a man of many risks, the idea of betting and going against odds a considerable part of his life.
“I like to gamble,” he told the Associated Press. “I like to bet on horses, I like to bet on dogs, I like to bet on a lot of things.”
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Yet despite his fascination with taking his chances on a number of hobbies and interests, the 65-year-old cancer patient and famed TNT sideline analyst-known for his loud suits and in-game interviews with coaches-does not seem perturbed by the third bone marrow transplant administered to fight an aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia.
“I’ve bet on a lot of things with a lot higher odds than this,” he said from his hospital bed in Houston.
Since his initial diagnosis in 2014, Sager has undergone two bone marrow transplants with stem cells, going into remission each time for several months. Before a 20-year-old anonymous donor recently gave him renewed hope as a perfect match, Sager’s own son, Craig Sager II, was the first one to step forward to help his dad.
“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. “And they call him up the next day and say: ‘Want to come down to the hospital?’ and he’s like: ‘What?'”
Having undergone nearly 100 procedures, Sager’s latest took more than 10 hours to complete. His stem cell transplantation physician, Dr. Muzaffar Qazilbash, said that three bone marrow transplants is rare, accumulating to “less than 1 percent of the total number of transplants.”
Although he has never doubted himself and has never questioned why cancer has repeatedly crept back into his life, Sager admits that sometimes he falls victim to the physical and emotional toll associated with his battle. When the time comes, he turns to his wife, Stacy, for guidance.
“I’ve never had any of those days where I’ve actually said ‘why me,’ or ‘I can’t do it,'” he said. “But I’ll have some dark nights where I’ll be here by myself and maybe getting some medicine that’s making me jump around like a rabbit. And I’m in pain and I’ve got chills and I’ve got fever and I’ve got everything mixed into one and I’m throwing up and have diarrhea … and I’ll just say: ‘Stacy, I need you. I need you.’ And she’ll come to me and just hold me and it just makes it better.”
Days prior to his transplant, Stacy came down with a bad cold, forcing doctors to send her home upon fears that her ill effects would travel to her husband.
Sager’s colleague and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said he heard the news of Stacy’s sickness and decided to hop on a plane from his home in Phoenix to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. However, the deed came with much scrutiny from his doctor, who had performed hip surgery on Barkley less than a month ago and had not permitted him to travel.
When questioned, Barkley said he told the doctor it was an emergency.
“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.”
Sager admits that being ready to return to work by the NBA season-opener on Oct. 25 is a long shot, but aims to come back by early November. Whenever he does return, he says it would be a celebration of just how far he’s come.
“It means that you’re surviving and you’re winning,” he explained. “That you’re knocking down obstacles and clearing hurdles that are put in front of you and you’re doing them with flying colors.”
Sager celebrated his 65th birthday in June, yet five vibrant balloons were bound to one side of his hospital bed, two of which read: “Happy birthday, it’s your big day.”
“When you get stem cells they say it’s your new birthday,” Stacy said. “So this is his fourth birthday.”
Sager attempted to brush aside the occasion, saying it wasn’t “a big deal,” leading to a serious rebuttal from his wife that reminder Sager of one of his earlier sentiments.
“It’s giving you life.”
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