My heart hurts today. ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, 49, died this morning. He lived with appendiceal cancer and its effects for almost eight years.
I’m a baseball fan, and I’ve seen my share of SportsCenter broadcasts. I knew who Stu was long before hearing about his cancer diagnosis. But the grief I feel today is not for the loss of a favorite celebrity. It’s for the loss of someone who was facing the same fears and challenges I faced during cancer treatment, and for the loss of a fellow parent who just wanted to see his kids grow up.
In May, 2011, a couple of weeks before my surgery, I tweeted about it and tagged a few others on Twitter who’d mentioned their cancer experiences, including Stu. I saw this in my Twitter notifications and felt that little thrill we all get when someone famous “notices” our tweets.
My Twitter profile pic at the time was a shot of me with my daughters. The fact that Stu noticed the pic, took time to read my bio, and sent words of encouragement really touched me, in more than the, “OMG, a celebrity noticed me!” way. He clearly understood that he could do something meaningful for other cancer “warriors” (his term), and he did it. This was a nice thing for him to do. It’s easy to use incidents like this to romanticize celebrities, to decide that they must be wonderful people. I don’t really know whether Stu was a good guy. It doesn’t matter whether he was. In that moment, he helped me, because he was another parent who understood how important it was to survive.
Stu spent a lot of time talking about his daughters. Whatever parts of his public persona were real or not, it seems pretty clear that being a dad was hugely important to him. He was proud of his girls. He understood just how lucky he was to have time with them. Stu spoke often of working to survive as long as possible – not to make more money, have more fame, squeeze more out of his own life – but to see his girls graduate from high school and college and walk them down the aisle at their weddings. I’m heartbroken that he won’t get to do all of that, because the fear that I’ll miss those milestones has haunted me every day since I was diagnosed. I know exactly how he felt.
In the fall of 2011, Stu tweeted that he was about to finish a round of chemo. Hundreds of fans sent him congratulatory messages thinking he’d won his battle, but of course a metastatic cancer patient’s fight is never over. Once the cancer cells have spread, there’s always a chance that they’ll return. I was about six weeks away from the end of my own chemotherapy, and faced that milestone with a combination of elation and fear. I sent Stu a few words of encouragement. He knew just what I meant.
Once more – I felt a little flutter when I read this, not so much because someone famous mentioned me by name, but because someone else felt just the way I did. Stu’s very public expression of fear helped thousands of other people understand, at least a little bit.
That’s it. Those two tweets, no more than 300 characters, were the extent of my interaction with Stuart Scott. We weren’t friends. I never met him. I don’t know much about his private persona. But I know what frightened him, and a little bit of what hurt his body and mind, and most of all, I know that he wanted to cling to every last minute he could have with his daughters. He wanted desperately to see them reach adulthood, to feel that the largest part of his work as a parent was done. I really, really hate the fact that he didn’t get to have that. I hope every day of my life that I will get to have it, and if and when I do, I’ll send a little “Boo-yah” out to Stuart Scott.