The tireless champion in the fight against pediatric cancer recently had a fight of his own.
Dick Vitale hopes it’s a fight he won. The ESPN college basketball analyst hopes the patch of melanoma removed from just above his nose doesn’t reappear on another part of his 82-year-old body.
In 2007, Vitale underwent surgery for an ulcerated lesion on his left vocal cord. A biopsy determined it wasn’t cancer.
This time, a biopsy did.
“I was a little shook up,” Vitale said. “It’s been a tough seven weeks.”
After returning from a trip to Hawaii with wife Lorraine and family to celebrate the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary, Vitale met his dermatologist for his annual checkup. He hadn’t been paying much attention to a tiny mark above his nose.
“Nothing was bothering me,” he said. “It was a dot above my nose. To tell you the truth, I got a lucky break. I would not even have had it taken out.”
Believing it to be keratosis, Vitale’s doctor tried burning it off. But a week later, it remained, and the process was repeated. Failing a second time, the doctor biopsied the growth. He told Vitale that, if anything, the biopsy would reveal the less-serious basal cell cancer.
“Three days later,” Vitale said, “he called up and I could tell in his voice — ‘Dick, we got a curve ball. It’s melanoma. We got to pray it doesn’t get into your organs.’ It spreads like crazy.”
The following day, Vitale had the growth of the most serious form of skin cancer removed. Good news followed: his doctor told him he had excised all the cancer and that the margins were good.
“But the surgeon who cut it out wasn’t comfortable sewing me back up,” Vitale said. “She said, ‘you’re on TV. I’m going to get a plastic surgeon who is really good.’ Four procedures followed to repair a “hole the size of a quarter,” Vitale said.
“The plastic surgeon said it was the worst spot in the world. They had to graph skin from my forehead. There’s no skin to play with right above your nose.
“But it’s nothing to what the kids (stricken with cancer) go through who I try to help during the year. What they go through, mine is nothing.”
Saying ESPN didn’t hire him to be Tom Cruise, Vitale will have quarterly checkups. “It could come back somewhere else.” But his cancer scare has prompted him to remind people not to ignore their own health.
“I want to get the message out that if you've got any abnormality on your body, get it evaluated,” he said. “It doesn’t have to hurt. It doesn’t have to bleed. If I didn’t go for my checkup, left alone, (the cancer) would have been all over my body and I would have been done.”