Craig Sager’s cancer fight continues with rare third bone marrow transplant

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Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance during the 2016 ESPYS. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance during the 2016 ESPYS. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Craig Sager’s ongoing efforts to win his years-long battle with acute myeloid leukemia will continue Wednesday, as the beloved Turner Sports sideline reporter undergoes his third stem-cell transplant since being diagnosed with the disease in April of 2014 thanks to the generosity of an anonymous bone marrow donor:

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“I’ve already had two stem cell transplants,” the 65-year-old Sager said during a March interview with HBO’s “Real Sports.” Very rarely does somebody have a third. So I have to maintain my strength, so I can go through this.”

In order to reach the point where he could undergo a third bone marrow transplant, Sager needed to embark on a new round of chemotherapy last month, which prevented him from traveling to Rio de Janeiro to cover men’s and women’s basketball during the 2016 Summer Olympics. That course of action frustrated Sager, who had hoped to hold off on the new round of treatment until after the Olympic fortnight, but the doctors who have helped him keep the disease at bay for the past two-plus years determined that time was of the essence.

“My body isn’t getting stronger, so they want to do it while I’m strong enough,” Sager told David Barron of the Houston Chronicle last month. “Third transplants are kind of rare, so hopefully we will get it done and I’ll be ready in time for [NBA] opening night.”

That kind of determination — well, it stinks that I have to miss some work now for this ultra-rare and hopefully life-saving treatment, but fine, if it means I’ll be able to get back to work sooner — has marked much of Sager’s fight. He was diagnosed in 2014, and has gone through multiple courses of treatment, including chemotherapy and stem cell transplants, to try to beat back the illness. After missing nearly a year, he was cleared to return to television in March of 2015, only to see the illness return, forcing him to once again step away from his duties.

After several more months of treatment, including a transplant of bone marrow donated by his son, Craig Jr., Sager came back for the NBA’s 2015-16 Media Day in September, returned to work on Opening Night a month later, and had his first televised post-treatment tete-a-tete with longtime foil and friend Gregg Popovich in December.

Sager continued to make monthly trips to Houston for treatment throughout the season, and was healthy enough to resume his responsibilities at the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend in Toronto. His status took a turn shortly thereafter, though, and Sager revealed in the March HBO interview that his leukemia was no longer in remission. Undaunted, he continued to work, juggling treatment through clinical trials, travel and broadcasting responsibilities, even getting the opportunity to work the first NBA Finals game of his career thanks to a special partnership between Turner Sports and ESPN.

For his inspiring efforts, Sager received the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2016 ESPYs, an honor “given to a deserving member of the sporting world who has overcome great obstacles through perseverance and determination.” In his speech at the awards ceremony, Sager spoke about the lessons he’s learned in battling his illness.

“When you are diagnosed with a terminal disease like cancer, leukemia, your perception of time changes,” he said. “When doctors tell you you have three weeks to live, do you try to live a lifetime of moments in three weeks? Or do you say, ‘To hell with three weeks?’ When doctors tell you your only hope of survival is 14 straight days of intense chemotherapy, 24 hours a day, do you sit there and count down the 336 hours? Or do you see each day as a blessing?

“[…] Whatever I might have imagined a terminal diagnosis would do to my spirit, it’s summoned quite the opposite: the greatest appreciation for life itself,” he added. “So I will never give up, and I will never give in. I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me.”

That fight continues Wednesday. Go get ’em, Sages. See you opening night.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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