My Cancer

Being a Timberwolves fan isn’t easy. It takes an immeasurable amount of heart, determination, and, some would say, altered sanity to continue bleeding for a team that has managed to let you down year after year in the worst possible ways. When most of us signed up for our seat on the Timberwolves’ bandwagon we were young, naive, and had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  Sure, we knew the team had a lackluster history and a penchant for bad luck, but we also understood that the biggest joy in a sports fan’s life comes from following your team from the depths of the valley all the way to the mountain’s peak.  Still, despite that time-honored truth, if any of us knew then what we know now, we’d have run screaming in the opposite direction from the Timberwolves and settled for a far less painful existence with some front-running team like the Bulls or Lakers. If only we’d known.  If only…

Yet we Wolves fans soldier on.  Each of us carries out our sacred duty in various forms of apathy. Through trial and error we’ve learned to only let ourselves care so much. Despite the pain, we remain fiercely determined to see our sentence all the way to the end. None of us dares to dream of leaving the cause for another franchise.  In perhaps the most vivd example of Stockholm syndrome, we’ve become undyingly loyal to our tormentor. Every wound we’ve suffered has somehow bound us tighter to our team. Some might say that it’s tribute to our collective character, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we’ve simply become too damaged to lead the existence of a normal NBA fan.  Yes, being a Timberwolves fan isn’t easy.

For the past four weeks I’ven spent my days working with children who have cancer.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience and it’s what I eventually want to do with my life once I’ve completed all my doctor training.  Throughout my rotation I met families who have had to overcome one enormous hurdle after another.  Some have lived for weeks in the hospital as we desperately tried to find a solution for their child’s excruciating pain.  I’ve met kids who have had their bodies ravaged by leukemia and chemotherapy only to relapse and then have to undergo bone marrow transplants.  I’ve seen overwhelming infections leave children on the brink of death, clinging to a ventillator tube to keep them alive. I’ve also met survivors who battled for their lives day in and day out and somehow won the battle.  Some lost limbs during their fight, while others, years later, have managed to beat the odds and walk away seemingly unscathed. 

Working with cancer patients isn’t easy . It takes an immeasurable amount of heart, determination, and, some would say, altered sanity to walk into work, stare death straight in the face, grab a front row seat to a display of the unthinkable, and then come back and do it all over again the next day.  People ask me how I do it . Sometimes I wonder that myself . How do you walk up to the hospital bed of a twelve year old girl who’s liver is full of tumor, who’s about to have her organs cut out and replaced with those of a stranger and make her believe that everything’s going to be alright? How do you tell her to reach past the pain and keep fighting?  How do you go back day after day and try to make her feel like a normal kid?  How do you deal with the realization that you’ve just become friends with and invested yourself in somebody who just might be slowly dying? I don’t have a good answer for those questions, but I know what’s helped me make it through the hard days.  It’s the fact that I have a cancer of my own.  No, it’s not growing in my liver or my blood.  My tumor resides in Minnesota, and it wears black, white, green, and steel blue. 

It’s not my intent to trivialize what the families I’ve worked with have gone through and continue to go through.  I fully realize that comings and goings of a basketball team are beyond shallow, weak, and insignificant compared to the daily fight and struggle for survival my patients have to endure.  Yet, thankfully, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the closest thing to a tumor that I’ve ever had to endure.  I pray it stays that way.  For me, the journey with the Timberwolves has been an eighteen year wrestling match with the word “quit”.  At seemingly every turn there has been another dissapointment, another disgrace, or another heart ache to endure.  Many times I’ve wondered why I put myself through through this torture, when I could so easily give in and walk away.  Years ago, when those thoughts would enter my head, I would talk myself into holding on with visions of Kevin Garnett raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of the Target Center faithful.  Lately, though, I’ve begun to come to grips with the fact that my Timberwolves tumor is likely terminal. As much as it pains me to say it, I honestly don’t think I will ever see the Minnesota Timberwolves win an NBA Championship.  The reality is simply that the odds are extremely thin. We’re simply too dysfunctional, too small of a market, and too cursed. 

And still, I carry on.  So do my fellow fans.  Despite the seeming futility of it all, we continue to fight through the pain and move forward.  We keep going for the same reason my patients do.  We do it because we know that it really isn’t futile at all.  No matter how bad it gets, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how bleak the future may seem, we refuse to quit.  Each day we hold on is a small victory, bringing with it new experience, new things to learn, and new chances to make a difference.  This Timberwolves have let me down more times than I can count, but they have also taught me more than any other basketball team ever could. They’ve made me a stronger person.  They’ve made me a better doctor.  Because of them, I’ve learned how to endure.

So come Tuesday night, whether the Wolves stand pat with the #5 pick, get bumped back, or finally improve their draft positioning for the first time in 20 years, I will stay the course.  I owe it to my fellow fans, my patients, my family, and myself.  Because I know that no matter what happens, the Minnesota Timberwolves will always be worth it. They’ve been a devastating cancer, but they’ve also made me well.

Derek Hanson

About Derek Hanson

Doctor by day, blogger by night, Derek Hanson founded the Bloguin Network and TWolves Blog. He is one of the original Timberwolves fans, hailing back to 1989.

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