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It was Stuart Scott's catchphrase, familiar to anyone who ever watched ESPN. It stood for something memorable. Thunder dunk? Boo-yah! Monster homer? Boo-yah! Write an engaging, heartbreaking, wrenchingly frank memoir of living with cancer for seven years? Boo-yah!
Scott died Jan. 4, at the age of 49, finally worn down by cancer of the appendix, a rare form diagnosed when the ESPN anchor had an appendectomy in November 2007. His recollection of hearing the diagnosis nobody wants to hear is poignant: "I wish I could explain this moment. It's a sledgehammer to your gut, your chest. It's a feeling of pressure, like you're about to burst all over."
Authors writing about their cancer is nothing new. Carnegie-Mellon professor Randy Pausch dealt with the impact of his terminal pancreatic cancer in The Last Lecture, which became a best-seller when published in 2008. And Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn drew on his nearly fatal cancer for his 1967 novel Cancer Ward. Scott, the "hip-hop sportscaster," adds a unique voice.
As competitive as the stars he covered (and no slouch as an athlete himself), Scott vowed to fight his cancer, personifying it as an opponent to be taken on and beaten. He would follow up chemotherapy sessions by going to the gym immediately for rigorous martial-arts and cross-training sessions.
Yet, Scott was not in denial. "There's a good chance I'm going to die a helluva lot earlier than I ever wanted to," he writes in his introduction to a book that he did not mean to be posthumous. Though he never wanted to know his prognosis or the stage of his cancer, he knew his fight was a delaying action: "There's a good chance I'm going to die soon," he writes. A family man to the core, he was afraid not just for himself, but also for his daughters, Taelor and Sydni, to whom the book is dedicated. He wanted to be there for them.
Cancer, ironically, sharpened Scott's experience of life, made him grateful for every day, every experience with those he loved. "That's what cancer does," he writes. "It messes with you, but it also makes your love so much bigger."
Those around him marveled at his determination. "Like many, I remain in awe of how he stared cancer smack-dab in the face," his friend and former ESPN colleague Robin Roberts, a breast cancer survivor, writes in the foreword.
Scott didn't view himself as brave or heroic. He didn't want people thinking of him as a superhero. He was just doing what he had to do. He had no choice, since the cancer wasn't going to go away. Truth to tell, Scott confides to the reader, he was really scared. That's why he spent so much time in the gym after his diagnosis. "I was at the gym because I needed to be," he writes. "Because I was terrified. Every minute of every day, I was afraid I was going to die. Not that moment, but soon - and sooner than I'd ever thought."
Beyond the determination to fight, and the fear it masked, Scott came to some profound conclusions, crystallized in the speech he gave in July when presented with the Jimmy V Award at the ESPYs. "When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer," he said. "You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live," he said. "So live. Love. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and let somebody else fight for you."
"It was only weeks later," Scott writes, "that I realized I was also talking to me, giving myself permission. Because what was to come would test even my fighting spirit."
Every Day I Fight is also the story of his life, which would have been interesting had he lived in the bloom of health into his 90s - from his childhood in North Carolina to his dogged efforts to break into TV (with appreciative mentions of former 6ABC reporter Denise James and 6ABC anchor Rick Williams) to his years at ESPN as the sportscaster GQ magazine dubbed "the hip-hop Howard Cosell."
Journalist Larry Platt, former editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia magazine, collaborated with Scott on the book, but did nothing to modify or distort Scott's voice. Scott took great pains with his writing for ESPN, crafting prose meant to be heard rather than read, written to sound ad-libbed. You don't read Scott in this book as much as you hear him - even in the shadow of death, "as cool as the other side of the pillow."