Chris Duncan resists brain cancer — just like his mom does

David Brown

The family of major-league pitching coach Dave Duncan has been hit unbelievably hard by cancer over the past year and a half. Eight weeks ago, Dave's son Chris Duncan — a slugger with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2005-2009 — was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a malignant cancer on the left side of his brain. Fourteen months before that, his mother and Dave's wife, Jeanine Duncan, had what columnist Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called "a significantly more advanced manifestation" of a brain tumor.

Former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was among the first outside the Duncan family to hear about Chris' diagnosis. His initial reaction: "It's so completely, incredibly unfair."

Both of the Duncans continue to resist their respective cancers.

Dave Duncan, famous for his abilities as a coach and for being La Russa's faithful lieutenant, doesn't want sympathy — because it's of no use to the family in fighting the disease:

"During the course of your life there are things that happen that are really good and positive," the father says during a Thursday morning drive. "You appreciate those things and don't get carried away with them. It's the same when something bad happens. It's there. It exists. You deal with it in the most productive way you can. You don't have a pity party. You deal with the issues that confront you and make intelligent decisions that hopefully work out."

That attitude is part of what made Duncan such a successful coach for a long time, though he retired after the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011 to be with his wife. But it's impossible to even imagine what he must have been thinking or feeling after getting the news about his son.

At first, Chris Duncan just tried to handle the pain — like he did during a solid major-league career cut short by injuries. But after a seizure and a blackout that occurred on the air during his radio show in St. Louis, he and his wife sought medical experts. They didn't like the answers, but what happened next was necessary to save Chris' life.

Duncan required a 6½-hour surgery Oct. 10 that included removing part of his skull. Unconscious for the first half of the procedure, Duncan was roused to read flash cards as surgeons probed his brain for the final three hours. Since a brain contains no nerves, Duncan felt nothing.

Strauss' story about the Duncans isn't hyped because it doesn't have to be. Just the facts might drive you to tears. But if you consider the strength Chris Duncan and Jeanine Duncan must possess in order to live through cancer, it's inspiring. And definitely worth your time to read.

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