Coaches vs. Cancer: Personal experience fuels Martin’s fight

Family’s brush with disease spurs USC coach to act

dcloninger@thestate.comMay 1, 2014 

Frank Martin and his wife, Anya

FILE PHOTO

The cause has been around for many years, but Frank Martin always wanted to do more than wear a lapel pin or sport sneakers on the sideline for a game or two. When cancer directly touched him and his family, he took action.

“I feared pancreatic cancer right before our first year at K-State as an assistant coach,” Martin said. “Then my mother-in-law got diagnosed with breast cancer, and just seeing the strain that put on our family is the reason I opened my eyes and my ears, trying to get my families closer together.

“Cancer brought us here, so I felt it was a great responsibility of mine to try and do whatever we can to raise money, to do our part, to fight that disease.”

That fight continues Friday night as Martin and his wife, Anya, host the second Annual B-Ball of the South at Colonial Life Arena. The Martins raised more than $140,000 last year for Coaches vs. Cancer and expect to raise more this year.

The gala is a Kentucky Derby-style event, with everyone encouraged to dress well and pull out the big hats and bowties. Martin might dust off a seersucker suit he’s been saving – if it goes well Friday night, he might recycle it for a game next year. Dancing and a live auction will complement several celebrity coaches who are set to attend.

The guest of honor is Martin’s mother-in-law, Valerie Forrest, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer but is doing fine in her recovery. The scare that the Martins felt when she was diagnosed still resonates, and made Martin remember a similar fright when he was an assistant coach at Kansas State.

“I just got sick, and it was pancreatitis, and my pancreas, when it regained its shape, it was shaped in a way that they feared cancer,” Martin said. “I had to go to Florida and see a specialist, who conferred with a specialist in New York, and after six days, they said that it wasn’t cancer. That was the first time it touched me directly, and made me pay closer attention.”

Last year’s guest of honor was longtime Missouri coach Norm Stewart, a cancer survivor who was the driving force behind Coaches vs. Cancer. The organization has raised more than $80 million since 1993.

Martin wants to do his part. The $100-per-head event is sold out.

“I always thought it was unbelievable that coaches would give up their own time, not for profit or publication or endorsement or to become a media darling. It’s just genuine,” Martin said. “When I got sick, it wasn’t pancreatic cancer, but the thought of living with that was not fun.”

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