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Iowa coach Fran McCaffery learns son has cancer two days after surgery to remove tumor

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Iowa vs Tennessee
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Mar 19, 2014; Dayton, OH, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery sits on the bench in the second half of a college basketball game against the Tennessee Volunteers during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at UD Arena. Tennessee defeated Iowa 78-65 in overtime. (Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery – whose 13-year-old son Patrick underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his thyroid on Wednesday, just hours before Fran flew out to coach an NCAA tournament game – released disappointing news on Friday.

Tests from the successfully removed tumor showed it was cancerous.

"[Friday], we received word from doctors that the tumor that was removed during our son Patrick's surgery on Wednesday is malignant. We will visit with doctors as soon as possible to determine Patrick's treatment," McCaffery said in a statement released by the school.

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Fran McCaffery reacts to a play during the second half of Wednesday's game. (USA TODAY Sports)

"Margaret and I would like to thank everyone again for the outpouring of support from across the country for our son Patrick and family this past week," the statement continued. "We appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers."

Just in case McCaffery's exhausted, bloodshot eyes Wednesday night after the Hawkeyes lost in overtime to Tennessee, capping a day of almost unimaginable emotional swings, didn't remind that March Madness doesn’t count for much, this makes it seem even less important.

McCaffery, 54, is a well-regarded coach and man. Despite the tremendous demands of a career as a college coach, he has always first identified himself as a husband and father, now of four children.

He's a Penn grad who became a head coach at the early age of 26, at Lehigh University. Through 28 years of running college programs, grinding up the ranks from Lehigh to UNC Greensboro to Siena and finally Iowa of the Big Ten, he's kept his wife and kids close and tried to run things like a giant family.

He's never coached at a school where winning is simple. He has to build, overachieve and constantly push. He's one of those often overlooked, good-guy grinders in the business.

This was just his sixth NCAA appearance, and first in three seasons at Iowa, but the health scare with Patrick took much of the excitement out of it. This was real life.

Wednesday began predawn, driving Patrick to the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City at 5 a.m. McCaffery's team was in Dayton for the First Four round of the tournament, his assistants conducting meetings and practices in the run-up to the game, everyone in the program’s thoughts with Patrick.

The surgery was deemed successful, but testing would be needed to see if cancer was found and further tests to find out if it spread before removal.

Once the surgery was done, McCaffery boarded a private jet for Dayton and arrived in time to coach his team. It lost a hard-fought and disappointing game. It could only hurt so much though.

"It was a day that, needless to say, has been very difficult," McCaffery said on Wednesday. "… You're talking about potential malignancy and you're saying to yourself, 'Wow, it puts wins and losses in perspective.' "

As the story spread nationally on Wednesday, a number of college basketball coaches and fans tweeted out #PatrickMcCaffery as a sign of support.

By Friday, the news was worse.

About the only positive is that Patrick and his parents are surrounded by a strong, tight family, both their own and throughout basketball, from Iowa City to far, far beyond.

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