Life is made up of experiences that challenge our body, mind and spirit. Sports teach us that on the other side of every challenge is a lesson learned. When life hit a family of athletes and coaches with the reality of cancer, they pulled from their internal library of lessons learned through sports – resilience, competitiveness, perseverance and toughness – faced the challenge head-on and won.
David Glover, an assistant director at the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) and his wife Cyndy Glover, a retired Oklahoma educator, have been relying on these skills since the words, “you have cancer” hit them not once, not twice, but three times during their 39-year marriage.
David was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011. The doctors were able to surgically remove the tumor, and for six years David was cancer free and doing what he loved most – positively impacting the kids of Oklahoma.
“David is a very positive person; his cup is always half full,” Cyndy said. “He shows people that he cares for them. He’s loving and kind and he’s thoughtful.”
Through those six years, the Glovers counted their blessings as they welcomed four grandchildren into the world and watched their daughters begin successful careers. Then in 2018, while the Glovers were enjoying the 2018 NFHS Annual Summer Meeting in Chicago with their OSSAA family, Cyndy got a call from her doctor.
“I always get called back after my mammograms, so when I got a call back, I didn’t think anything of it,” Cyndy said.
This time the news would be different and on July 5, 2018, Cyndy had a biopsy that revealed she did indeed have breast cancer. Cyndy immediately pulled from the skills she says she gained as a former high school and college basketball player.
“I just think through athletics, you learn that when you get beat, you don’t get down. You just got up and worked harder the next day,” Cyndy said. “You just have to look at the positives after a loss and think, ‘what did your team learn, what did you learn and work at those things to get better.’ I’m so thankful that I got to play the game of basketball.”
Cyndy approached her treatment like a regular-season athletic schedule: biopsy on the 5th, diagnosis on the 9th, MRI on the 16th, meet with surgeon on the 23rd, surgery on the 30th and six weeks later start radiation. The schedule was in place.
The unbelievable part in all of this is that while Cyndy was setting up her regular-season schedule, David received his own bit of bad news. The cancer that he had fought and beat was now back. Not only was it back, but it was literally eating his spine.
On July 28, only five days after Cyndy met with her surgeon, David underwent a PET scan that showed his T11 vertebra was being consumed by cancer. On August 6, the biopsy confirmed that not only was it cancer, but David was at serious risk of paralysis.
As Cyndy recalls, the doctor said, “Cyndy, we can’t let David move quickly. We can’t let him twist. We can’t let him turn. He can’t lift anything over 10 pounds because if that thing gives, he will be paralyzed from the neck down.”
The seriousness of the situation was hard for David to grasp as he had been living with back pain since March of 2017. Steroid injections were helping him continue to function.
“David’s kind of one of those, “if you don’t think about it, it will go away” people and it wasn’t going away,” Cyndy said.
David was in to see his oncologist that same week in August, and on the 24th he underwent a five-hour surgery that involved the removal of one rib and the T11 vertebra and in its place the doctor inserted two rods and eight screws. Radiation soon followed.
To make this already unbelievable story more unbelievable, while David was preparing to leave the house for a radiation appointment he started feeling chest pain. The radiation staff recommended he have it checked out and within a few hours David was diagnosed with pericarditis and was undergoing surgery to remove the blockage and insert a stint.
“I wasn’t recovering quickly enough from my surgery,” David said. “I had no energy. I was going to radiation. I’d leave there and go into work for as long as I could. I’d come home and have no energy, like I was depressed. I wasn’t getting enough blood to my heart.”
David’s positive attitude and can-do spirit that Cyndy was first attracted to when they met at Northwestern Oklahoma State University as student-athletes was severely tested through this experience.
“I realized this was different than any other game I’d been in, because you know it was the most challenging thing that I’ve had to face – learning to not get down,” David said.
It was David’s drive to get back into the office and work for the student-athletes of Oklahoma that kept his spirits up.
“The one thing I miss about coaching and school administration is that day-to-day interaction with kids. The only time I get to make that difference with kids now is during my events,” he said. “I got back plenty early for basketball, but I did probably come back too soon.”
David and Cyndy were back in their comfort zone hosting the 2019 OSSAA basketball state championships. This is an opportunity for the Glovers to give back to the community that supported them throughout this past year.
“We had Special Olympics come out and do some scrimmaging at halftime. [The OSSAA] honored some journalists in the state that were retiring that have done a lot for high school athletics,” David said. “The kid part of this is why I do it. I want to make a difference, even if it’s just a little bit; that’s what’s important.”
The Glovers feel nothing but blessed after their battles with cancer – blessed to be alive, blessed to have the love of their family, blessed to live in Oklahoma and feel the love of community and blessed to serve the student-athletes of Oklahoma.
Lindsey Atkinson is director of sports/communications associate at the National Federation of State High School Associations.