By Tom Vallely
John Vallely was an All American basketball player at UCLA and was a first round
draft choice of the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA in 1971.
The UCLA teams were both NCAA Champs and pretty legendary. They were
coached by John Wooden.
1969 UCLA Bruins NCAA Champions
|TOP (l to r): Lynn Shackelford, Curtis Rowe, Steve Patterson, Lew
Alcindor, Sidney Wicks, John Ecker, Bill Seibert. MIDDLE: George Farmer,
Bill Sweek, Ken Heitz, John Vallely, Terry Schofield.
BOTTOM: Ducky Drake, Denny Crum, John Wooden, Gary Cunningham, Bob
1970 UCLA Bruins NCAA Champions
| TOP (l to r): Kenny Booker, Rick Betchley, John Ecker, Sidney
Wicks, Steve Patterson, Jon Chapman, Curtis Rowe, Bill Seibert,
John Vallely. MIDDLE: George Morgan (manager), Gary Cunningham,
John Wooden, Denny Crum, Ducky Drake. BOTTOM: Henry Bibby, Terry
Schofield, Andy Hill.
John Vallely Today
John Vallely, age 53, was raised in Orange County and now lives in Newport
Beach. During his college days, John was a member of the UCLA Bruins basketball
team and participated in two National Championship seasons, 1969 and 1970, under
legendary coach John Wooden. John and wife Karen met during college and were
married in 1970, the year John graduated with a degree in sociology. The couple
had two children: a son, Eric, and a daughter, Erin. When Erin was 9 years old
she was diagnosed with cancer, and eventually lost her battle, at the age of 12,
in 1991. Since then, John and Karen have been committed to fighting pediatric
|Today, John is completing treatment for his own illness, lymphoma,
and is very optimistic about his recovery. John says he uses Wooden’s
Pyramid of Success strategy to deal with his cancer. Wooden’s
philosophy, according to Vallely, focuses on success rather than
winning. “I have no conflict in my heart about knowing that I am the
best I can be and so I have peace of mind,” John says. “Success is the
absence of conflict. Actually it’s harder to do than winning. It’s
possible to win a game without doing your best. But knowing have been
the best husband, the best father, the best patient I can, is all I can
Surviving With Strength
A Former UCLA Basketball Star Writes About
Dealing with the Loss of a Daughter from Cancer,
and Then, Fighting His Own Battle with Lymphoma
By John Vallely
A random attack of cancer strikes fear in anyone. Why me? Am I going to die?
What did I do wrong? Why did this have to strike my daughter at such a young
age? It’s not possible to answer these questions. What matters most, is our
response to these life challenges.
My experience with cancer began in 1988. My
9- year-old daughter Erin was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. Surgeons removed
a cantaloupe- sized tumor from her abdomen, but were unable to get the entire
growth. Until her death in 1991, she endured multiple s u r g e r i e s ,
chemotherapy and radiation that severely burned her already ill body. I learned
so much from her. I miss her.
In April 2002, at 53 years old, I was diagnosed
with lymphoma. I cannot tell you how astonished I was to learn of my condition.
How could this be? Haven't we had enough? My wife and I had already experienced
our child dying in our arms. What could be next for us? What about our son Eric?
Again I was filled with fear, but once we all began to fight back it gradually
The first step of each patient’s process is correct diagnosis. I
believe you must have at least two opinions regarding pathology. If a patient is
incorrectly diagnosed, the treatment will not attack their disease. I have
spoken with patients who were disappointed with treatment outcome. They later
learned that the course of medications would have been different had they
researched their circumstances more thoroughly. Consensus on diagnosis is good.
Differing opinions lead to better decisions, so patient and family must be
proactive and explore options. The relationship with the medical system should
be considered a partnership.
The next step is launching a plan of attack. After
all, this is War! Most things, including my cancer, are not simply about winning
and losing. My disease is about the process. I believe it is important to have a
positive attitude. Mine is: "I will be the best I can be. I will do all that I
can do to get well and to help my loved ones. I will follow all of the doctor’s
directions. I will do everything in my power to give myself and loved ones every
chance to survive this disease. And then I will pray!"
I believe "hope" is
important. One can benefit from faith in something. The mental, physical and
spiritual obstacles related to cancer are severe. A positive outlook may not
have the power to heal -— but, then again, it might. I believe, at the very
least, it can make the process more manageable. Hope and faith are very
personal. I was broken-hearted and disappointed when God did not heal my
daughter. Yet, I believe she is in heaven. When I was diagnosed, I was angry
with God. My lonely walks on the beach brought on another series of questions:
What kind of God are you? Do you care? What do you want with my family? Even so,
I never gave up my trust that God is watching over Erin.
My journey forward has
been steady but difficult. It requires a willingness to participate on so many
levels and I’m always seeking answers. I believe that the process will lead to
living my life at the highest level, regardless of the outcome. Prayer and
reflection are part of my daily vigilance. I am grateful that doctors, nurses,
chemotherapy, and other drugs are available. I consider these to be gifts from
God. I also believe this is part of a grand plan that will give me, the cancer
patient, an opportunity to fight and a chance to get well.
When our daughter
Erin died my wife, Karen, and I made our decision to fight back. We joined with
others in an organization called the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation (PCRF)
to raise funds for research aimed at curing pediatric cancer. I’m a past
president of PCRF, and currently a member of the PCRF board of directors. Karen
spends countless hours on the PCRF Holiday Card Program — their major fund
raising activity for the last 20 years. Our family shares the goals of PCRF.
Raising funds to support research will help fight this terrible disease. Over
the last 20 years the survival rate for children with cancer has more than
doubled because of research. Regardless of the outcome of my disease, I know
that we are making a difference in this big battle, that we are committed until
cancer is defeated.