Sometimes it’s hard to show strength on the outside when your heart can be hurting.
Temple’s women’s gymnastics team was asked to do so last Saturday, as they have all season, when they defeated rival Pennsylvania.
Their coach, Ken Anderson, is fighting an ongoing battle with cancer.
He has battled cancer for 12 years. In recent years, the bouts have been more severe.
“Most of the intensity of [the illness] has been within the last eight years,” Anderson said.
“The first four [years], it was like this little tumor that came out of the left side of my cheek. A couple of different times it didn’t seem like anything. Then all of a sudden it started to spread around my head more.”
What makes the type of cancer Anderson has even more problematic is the fact that it is rare.
The technical name for it is ex-pleomorphic adenoma carcinoma.
Besides the basics, there isn’t much literature on it.
Usually this rare type is a benign tumor that can appear in the major salivary gland.
Surgical removal of the gland would normally eliminate the problem, but the cancer instead appeared in one of the thousands of minor ones.
This makes it tougher to spot which gland the cancer grew from, and even tougher to remove.
Two years ago, Anderson thought the disease went into remission.
He was able to go a long stretch of time without surgery and virtually no radiation treatment.
But last year, doctors told Anderson the cancer had spread to his right lung.
Because of this, Anderson says surgery is not an option.
Surgery would destroy the lung and further complicate things.
Anderson did say the type of chemotherapy he currently undergoes is stopping the growth of the cancer cells.
It hasn’t destroyed them completely.
“[The chemotherapy] can be a little harsh, can give me a hard time,” Anderson said, “but I’m working to get through it.”
Anderson credits his assistant coaches, Aaron Murphy and Tori Amato, for keeping the team focused on the task at hand when he cannot.
He also credits his team for maintaining its focus through the hard times and, most of all, for being understanding.
“There have been some times when I have a reaction to the chemo that has made things rough on me where I’ve missed a practice here and there,” Anderson said.
“The girls have been perfectly understanding and keep pushing on and moving on the way they’re supposed to. They’ve been very good about it.”
There is a strong bond between this team and its coach, akin to that of a family. What they share can only be known by those within that inner circle.
Their combined strength keeps them both afloat.
“Yeah, they worry about me, oh yeah,” Anderson conceded.
“But they’re real good about putting their focus into what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Despite his condition, Anderson won’t allow it to stop him from coaching.
He wants to continue to fight – and win.
“I want to stay around with this team,” Anderson said with a smile.
“I’ve been at Temple for 18 years, and this is a good group of kids and a good place to be.”
Calvin Gorrell can be reached at Cgorrell@temple.edu.