As the SFA men’s basketball team held their first practice of the year, fourth-year Assistant Coach Wade Mason roamed the court donning a blue t-shirt. It read, “One goal, cancer.” with the word cancer marked out in red. It was a subtle gesture as to what Mason endured the week prior.
That week, he was undergoing chemotherapy for liver cancer. Mason, who aids the coaching staff in player development, recruiting and scouting, was initially diagnosed with prostate cancer in June after it was thought that he had a bleeding ulcer. The doctors called Head Coach Kyle Keller and told him what they found.
“They found two gnarly cysts of prostate cancer,” Keller said. “As Coach Mason was waking up out of surgery, we had to tell him that it wasn’t a bleeding ulcer. It was a difficult thing to watch as the doctor told him what they found and what his options would be.”
A decision had to be made on whether to operate on Mason either in Nacogdoches or in Houston. The operation took place Nacogdoches two days later and the cysts were removed. Mason was in the hospital for five days and during that time went through multiple screenings and other treatments. At the end of July, the doctors found cysts in his liver and groin area through PET scans.
When Mason discovered he had cancer, he was consumed by the thought of death along with his children.
“That’s what you think of when you hear cancer,” Mason said. “Death was the first thing and outside of death was my kids. Have I done enough to prepare them for this world? If I was to leave today or tomorrow, could they hold their own in this world?”
Wade said the cancer comes with mental anguish that he doesn’t want anyone to go through. His son told him he was sad. As a parent, that was the last thing he wanted to hear. But, despite the initial doubts he faced, Mason refocused and switched his mindset. He mentioned his daughter has sickle-cell and that is hard, cancer is easy.
“Let’s fight,” Mason said. “What do I have to do to beat this? The doctors told me mine was curable instead of terminal. I don’t know if I could’ve handled that. They said curable, and that was it for me.”
The news of Mason’s cancer not only affected his family, but also to the players on the SFA basketball team. It mostly had a bigger effect on the veteran players who knew Mason when he was healthy and watching him lose weight.
“We were all shocked,” said senior guard John Comeaux. “That was something none of us expected and for sure didn’t want. Just knowing that it was one of our coaches, one of our family members, that hits hard.”
Senior guard/forward Kevon Harris said they pray for Mason before and after practice. When he’s not there, they know he’s with them in spirit. Mason describes the team and the University as his family. He did not want to miss practice but Keller had to help him put his life into perspective that he had to beat cancer. His fellow coaches along with his players noticed his mentality regarding the adversity he is facing.
“Coach Wade taught us how to take basketball and put it into real life,” Comeaux said. “Like the adversity we face in basketball, you can take that and make sure that whatever you go through in life as well that you take it the same way—straight head on.”
The team was taken on a retreat where Mason told them his story and what he has been going through in the last months while finishing chemo, CT scans and surgeries. The goal Mason continues to remind his players is give him their best when they are on the court and that’ll make him feel better. Mason’s message to his players is to focus on the upcoming season which tips off against LeTourneau University at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 6 in William R. Johnson Coliseum.
Mason said he has talked to almost every coach in the country, his friends and past teammates. He has received an outpouring of love and support from others, but he doesn’t want this to be about him.
“Don’t’ make it about me,” said Mason. “I’m not the first person to have cancer. Am I a spokesperson or an inspiration for it? Yeah—I don’t mind being that, but don’t make it about me. Let’s make it about the disease. Let’s do what we can do to find a cure for it.”
Keller has faith Mason will beat cancer. Although it is difficult for the team to see him go through this, Keller believes it is important for them to learn about adversity because it’s what college is about.
“I think it’s great for our guys to see somebody as mentally tough as he is,” Keller said. “That’s who he’s been his whole life from the time I knew him as a teenager. Just a tough, hard rocking dude.”