Put Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich at a podium and the atmosphere is immediately lightened with jokes. That was not the case on Monday, as the Falcons coach instead opened with the somber news that assistant Drew Long is battling cancer. Below is the full text of Pilipovich’s opening statement as well as his answers to questions from media.
PILIPOVICH: This weekend is the national Coaches Vs. Cancer weekend. We won’t get a chance this weekend to participate and wear the suits and sneakers. So we’re going to do that on Wednesday. We’re going to wear sneakers with our suits for the Wyoming game and Wyoming is going to do the same – I talked with coach Shyatt today and he confirmed that their staff is going to come down. Why I’m mentioning that is that we’ve all been affected by cancer in one way or another, but we’ve been hit a little bit closer to home this year. (pause) One of our assistants, Drew Long, he’s been gone since Thanksgiving on medical leave. He’s having his personal battle with cancer right now. He’s doing well. He’s in Houston in treatment. He’s in his second week of some radiation and chemo therapy and he’s doing well. High spirit, high energy. We think about him often. Talk to him daily, text him. He texts the guys and checks in on us. This year it will be a little closer to home for us and mean a lot more, obvsiously. We wish him the best and his speedy recovery and to beat this dreadful disease and we’ll be thinking about him a little more on Wednesday as we play that game. So I wanted to say that first and foremost. We wish him well.
Q: What kind of cancer is it?
P: Drew has rectal cancer and has had some issues with his colon. It was identified in November. He went down to Houston for treatment. His family is in Houston and he’s originally from there. He went down for surgery right before Christmas. He came out of the hospital on Christmas Eve, so be home for Christmas. The radiation treatment started two weeks ago this Thrusday. Five weeks for five days. He does the radiation and it’s only five minutes. He takes a chemo pill and does the radiation. He’ll be back here sometime as we head into February.
Q: He has three little girls, correct? Is his family here or with him?
P: His family is down there. His parents live in Houston and his sister lives across the street, so they’ve been bouncing around from family to family and staying with them throughout the time, which has been as good a situation as you can have because of having the family down there to be with his wife and kids while he’s been in the hospital and getting his treatment. I think he does the treatment about 15 minutes from his parent’s home down there. Every morning they drive him too and from. He said it wipes him out in the afternoon and he takes a nap. He said he gets up after that to do some exercise and try to put some weight on, because he lost a lot of weight prior to him going to Houston in November.
Q: Had he been feeling symptoms for a while prior to the diagnosis?
P: He had since maybe last spring. He just felt tired at times and worn down, was losing some blood, but didn’t think anything of it. He had some checkups. He had stomach issues in the past and thought that maybe it was related to that. Then we were at the Military Classic at VMI and he really felt bad. He came home and had a thorough exam and they found some things there. He then decided to go to Houston and that’s where they detected the cancer along with his colon issues. That’s when the procedures started from that time.
Q: Do they feel they caught it early?
P: Yes, very early. So hopefully they got it at the right time and will be able to minimize any more treatment and any spreading and take it away and he can move on from there.
Q: As a family man yourself, how has this impacted you?
P: He’s 32. Gosh, I’m 75, I think. First, you think about him, but then as I talk to my wife you think about his wife and kids. The kids don’t understand. They just think daddy’s a little sick and we’re away from home. As he said, the kids are excited. They’re down with grandma and granddad. But they can detect something is wrong and he’s not well. But family is the most important thing. You know that blockout we missed on Saturday? It doesn’t mean that much. The offensive charge call? The missed wide-open 3? When you think about it, this is the most important thing – getting him healthy and being there for his wife and kids and living a long life.
Q: I get the sense this puts things into perspective.
P: For our players, too, when he first told them. We’ve got great young men. They knew he wasn’t feeling well, but when you hear that word it kind of throws the alarm on everybody. We’ve had players who have had some experiences with their families with cancer, too, so it really hit home. They’ve done a great job of staying in touch with him and him with they as well and with us. We just wish him well. He’s going to get better. He’s going to get back and he’s going to get better. The support he has with us, and I tell you what, our athletic department and administration has been outstanding for him during this time. What he said to me last Saturday, he said, ‘You know what, we’ve really got some good people at Air Force.’ Just how caring they are and helping him through this time. And I said, ‘Yea, we do.’ Sometimes you get caught up in the day-to-day activities and maybe things don’t go maybe as you planned and you get frustrated, but when it’s all said and done we’ve got some great people here at the Air Force Academy.
To top it all off, the first week when he was down there we had cold weather. His pipes froze, and flooded his hosue. $30,000. As he said, sometimes when it rains it pours. He’s got a great outlook on things and he’s going to do great things.