He does not walk alonePlayers, school and community supporting Pisgah boys basketball coach with his fight against cancer
CANTON — Every high school coach has often wondered if the lessons they teach are really making a difference.
Pisgah head boys basketball coach Casey Kruk knows the answer.
“Coach is family,” said senior McKinley Brown. “We love him. We refuse to let him walk through this alone. We refuse to let him fight this battle all by himself. Each player will be there to help him fight this cancer and he will beat it.”
“We are all behind him,” said senior Hunter Wike. “Whatever we have to do for him, we don’t want him to worry about trival things while he fights this tumor. Our coach will not walk alone through this fight.”
As Kruk undergoes treatments in his battle against a rare form of cancer called Desmoid tumor, which is attached to his kidney, he has received heartwarming support from his players, past and present, the entire community and kind people throughout the mountains.
“Pisgah is a different place,” said Kruk’s wife Jennifer. ”Most people don’t understand this place. Especially if you are not in it they don’t get it. These people maybe real hard on their coaches, but they are also very supportive of one another and help you do anything.
“Having to deal with this at Christmas time is hard on Casey and our family. But they have come out in force and are helping us get Casey to Houston, Texas. But what his players have done, and are doing, touches us and Casey beyond words.”
Kruk started with doctors in Western North Carolina, then was sent to a specialist in Winston-Salem and then he was referred in mid-November to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is part of the University of Texas.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center ranks as one of the world’s most respected centers focused on cancer patient care, research, education and prevention. MD Anderson is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute. For 10 of the past 12 years, including 2013, MD Anderson has ranked No. 1 in cancer care in “Best Hospitals,” a survey published annually in U.S. News & World Report.
While their coach was gone to Houston, every one of his basketball players went to his house and did all the yard work, winter cleaned every room in his house, completed every item on their coach’s “Honey Do” list and even got out the Christmas boxes in storage and decorated the house inside and out.
“Oh, we were surprised,” said Jennifer. “They did it all. They did things around the house that Casey has not been able to do. But it was decorating our house for Christmas that was really awesome.”
But the team hasn’t stopped going over to the house to see what they can do for him. Anything that needs to be done is done by his players, who have taken it upon themselves to take care for the one man they love and respect.
And what a wonderful gift his players are giving him at Christmas.
“It feels really good to be able to help Coach Kruk,” said junior Thomas Tatham. “He is family. We don’t want him to go through this by himself. We are truly worried about his well being, his wife’s and his two boys.”
Desmoid tumors arise from cells called fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are found throughout the body and their main function is to provide structural support and protection to the vital organs such as lung, liver, blood vessels, heart, kidneys, skin, intestines etc. and they also play a critical role in wound healing.
When fibroblast cells undergo mutations they can become cancerous and become Desmoid tumors (also known as aggressive fibromatosis).
Desmoid tumors can arise in virtually any part of the body and can be slow growing or extremely aggressive. They do not metastasize (move from one body part to another), and if slow growing they can be carefully watched by your physician.
However, aggressive Desmoid tumors can cause life threatening problems or even death when they compress vital organs such as intestines, kidney, lungs, blood vessels and nerves.
In the United States, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Desmoid tumors every year. This means that out of a million people approximately 2 to 4 people are diagnosed with Desmoid tumors each year.
Unfortunately in Coach Kruk’s case, his Desmoid tumor is aggressive and too large to operate.
Not the best of news for Kruk and his family.
The MD Anderson Cancer Center went to Plan B and that was having Kruk go through chemotherapy treatments in an attempt to shrink the Desmoid tumor to a so doctors can operate and remove it from his kidney.
“I think we were finally relieved to have a plan,” said Jennifer. “I think that was the biggest thing for sometime and we finally got that and that was a good thing. He has his good days and his bad days mainly because we have already done this once before when he had fought and beat testicular cancer at the age of 23.
“We can’t help but wonder how many times you have to fight this. But he has been really positive, especially since now we have a plan.”
But that is exactly what coach Kruk has taught his players and his boys, to be positive.
When the community learned of Kruk’s tumor, people began to organize and planned an fundraising event called “Destroying Desi,” to help the Kruk family deal with the stress of his financial obligation to cover all the treatments, medical expenses and the travel expenses.
And no organization does it better than the Pisgah Nation.
Saturday, Dec. 14, the Pisgah Athletic Booster Club, Pisgah High School, Enka High School, Crossfit Haywood, Fatz Cafe, Ingles, Food Lion, Sams Club, Sequoyah Country Club, Wanyesville Country Club, Springdale Country Club, Laurel Ridge Country Club, Pepsi Cola, Biltmore, Black Bear Cafe and U.S. Foods Snyder Company put on a fundraiser that raised more than $21,000 to help Kruk and his family continue the fight of “Destroying Desi.”
The event was highlighted with a barbecue luncheon, a silent auction and a fitness day that incorporated some terrific ideas from folks all across the area.
“It has been amazing to see the people come out for my good friend,” said Pisgah head girls basketball coach Brandon Holloway after Saturday’s fundraiser. “I was just shocked to see how many people were here considering the very cold and rainy weather. But they still came.
“Casey is a good friend of mine and I know that the one thing that I don’t want to see is for him to have to deal with the stress of his financial obligation to cover all the treatments, medical expenses and the travel expenses. He needs to conserve his energy and focus on getting better. It is crazy the people that have jumped in to help. The community part of this has been outrageous.”
Now, with the strength of the community behind him, there should be little doubt that once again Kruk will find a way to win the biggest fight of his life.
“You know that I am so humbled by the support that I have gotten from this community and other communities,” said Kruk. “I never in all my wildest dreams imagined that this many people care about me. I am just amazed what this community has done. Pisgah is an amazing place and all this support just hits home with me.
“I think nightly when I go to bed, I pray at night for a way to thank the people of Canton, to show how much I appreciate what they have done for me. There are so many people that have given me so much that I could not possibility thank them all personally.
“I am determined to put all my energy into what I have been doing for the past eight years at Pisgah. I will give everything that I can to my players. I love them as much.
“From the moment I knew something was going on, I always felt supported by this community. We go though these things for a reason and we are asked to carry certain torches for a reason and this is mine right now. I will always fight to beat this cancer. But for me, right now, I have to be with my players, my boys, my wife and family.”
And the players have to be with their coach because they will not allow him to walk alone during his fight against cancer.