Ryan Bartlett, who faced his own mortality at age 34 due to a cancer scare last winter, was back on the job coaching White Bear Lake football when practices started Aug. 14.
“For the most part, it’s not too bad. I’ve been able to do most of what I need to,” Bartlett said Saturday evening, after capping off the first two weeks with scrimmages that morning. “Sometimes I come to practice a little later than I usually do. I’m battling fatigue.”
Bartlett was vexed late last year by a nagging cough, shortness of breath and recurring lightheadedness.
On his third trip to the doctor, the problem was found: a lump in his chest 9 centimeters across, and spots detected on his lymph nodes, spleen, liver and stomach. Yes, cancer.
The young coach and PE teacher acknowledged: “I was just so scared.” Rather than dwelling on football practically every hour of the day, his normal mindset, he just wanted to be home with his wife and children.
It was a reprieve when the final diagnosis turned out to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma, described a cancer of the white blood cells, or lymphocytes, that spreads between lymph nodes. The cure rate for Hodgkins is much higher than most cancers. It was “not a death sentence,” and instead a beatable foe, he concluded.
Bi-weekly chemotherapy started in late April, which also meant pulling back from parts of his work schedule. For instance, leading the summer weights program, which he had always done, was left to his assistants so he could get rest.
“There are times it is pretty hard,” Bartlett acknowledged, referring to fatigue. “I have to find time to sleep during the day. I’ve really got to take care of myself and monitor my health constantly.”
Two practices a day the first week mean 10-hour days, a daunting schedule for any coach. And the scrimmages on Saturday made for a particularly long day. “I have chemo on Wednesdays,” he said, “and Saturdays after that are when you kind of bottom out.”
Bartlett will start his seventh season as head coach Thursday evening, Aug. 30 with the Bears opening at Centennial.