Seattle Coach Fights Back Cancer for World Lacrosse Festivals
DENVER — How do you tell your kids you have cancer?
When Eric Brown and his wife, Ana, broke the news to their sons, 10-year-old Mason and 7-year-old Alex, they turned to sports. Brown, 45, has advanced throat cancer. His diagnosis came after doctors discovered a tumor inside his neck in early February, shortly after the Seattle family celebrated the Seahawks' victory in Super Bowl XL.
"Cancer was the opposing team, and the doctors that were going to take care of Eric were like Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson," Ana Brown said. "These guys were unstoppable, and they were going to cure daddy's cancer."
In the Seattle lacrosse community, the Brown family found its 12th man.
Eric Brown, coach of the Seattle Wolfpack boys' team competing in the U11 division of the World Lacrosse Festivals, a US Lacrosse event in conjunction with the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship, organized the tournament team last fall. Originally from Denver, he was hell bent on providing "an extraordinary experience for kids to come see world-class lacrosse," he said — with or without him on the sideline.
Brown's cancer program, which ended six weeks ago, kept him from coaching for most of the spring season. He received three intravenous infusions of Cisplatin, an aggressive chemotherapy drug, and underwent daily radiation treatments.
Telling the team was almost as hard as telling the kids.
"Being able to talk about it in a lacrosse context maybe made it easier," Brown said. "We're all going to have to fight tough battles and set goals. My goal is to get through cancer and beat it."
Brown made it to most of the spring practices and games, if only to watch his son, Mason, who plays midfield for the Wolfpack. Several dads coached in his absence.
"Sometimes, he was green," Ana Brown said, referring to her husband's complexion after chemotherapy. "Each week he made it a goal to get to the game on Saturday. Even if he had to sit in a chair popping pills, he never left the sideline."
Eric Brown, who played lacrosse at Whitman College and works fulltime as a senior product manager at Expedia, couldn't help himself. Occasionally, he summoned enough energy to address the team.
"It was good for me to get out," he said. "I would trudge one very slow step at a time out to the field to sit down and watch the game. There's no greater joy as a parent than to be able to watch the kids play."
The Wolfpack went undefeated, according to Ana Brown.
"There is no question the team got our family and Eric through his treatment," she said. "Every week he had something to look forward to. Every Saturday my son went out on the field to win for his dad."
|Denver Outlaws defenseman Chris O'Dougherty stepped in to coach the Wolfpack in Brown's absence.|
Privately, Eric Brown hoped he would make it to Denver, in whatever capacity. But he knew he could not coach. He asked Denver Outlaws (MLL) defenseman Chris O'Dougherty, who lives in Seattle, to coach the summer tournament team. Despite a busy lacrosse life that also includes playing for the Vancouver Stealth (NLL), coaching a Washington high school team and starting a business, O'Dougherty volunteered without hesitation.
"I met Eric last summer through our City Side Lax camps," O'Dougherty said, referring to the private enterprise he started with Outlaws teammate and Seattle native Drew Snider. "We developed a relationship. Eric's always kind to me, so I decided to return the favor. I'll always help out a friend, and a lacrosse friend. Lacrosse is what brings us together, but it's not what keeps us together."
Brown said the Wolfpack players feed off of O'Dougherty's enthusiasm for the game. O'Dougherty said they play for Brown.
"I'm now six weeks into recovery. I go back and get my first scan at the end of month that will determine if the tumor is gone," Brown said. "I think I'm doing well. I feel good. Being able to come to Denver was something I was shooting for."
The Wolfpack opens pool play Thursday at 9 a.m. Mountain against the Sienna (Texas) Panthers at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. The entire Brown family will be there, including Mason, who's playing in the event, and Alex, the team mascot.
"I have no idea how the boys will fare. At the end of the day I don't really care," Ana Brown said. "The minute they run on the field for their first game, we already won."
The World Lacrosse Festivals, hosted by US Lacrosse in conjunction with the FIL World Championship, start Thursday with pool play in the U11 and U17 divisions. There are more than 200 teams in 11 divisions ranging from U11 to 60-and-over, including the elite/open division that features teams from Japan, Ireland and Portugal. Schedules and scores can be found at worldlacrosse2014.com/festivals.
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