It turns out Dick Vitale texts like he talks, a wonderful realization considering he is under doctor’s orders not to talk at all right now.
Vitale — the irrepressible, ebullient, over-the-top-and-yet-authentic Dickie V., an analyst and champion of college basketball for more than four decades on ESPN — is recovering from cancer treatment and recent vocal cord surgery.
He is not allowed to speak while he mends from the vocal cord dysplasia procedure performed in mid-February by Dr. Steven Zeitels at Massachusetts General Hospital. So while the college basketball season accelerates toward its March Madness pinnacle, Vitale, 82, must remain silent, fulfilling Zeitels’s command to rest his voice for four weeks.
The irony of Vitale’s situation is hard to miss, and he acknowledged in a text conversation Thursday that the circumstances are not easy, a candor he shares in his frequent, detailed health updates on social media.
But there’s a comforting, if small, realization when you read his texted words. You hear them in Vitale’s voice, and vividly.
“I have used the theory of my Mom & Dad who taught me as a child when I lost my vision in my left eye that I can’t let [anything] stop me from chasing my dreams,’’ he wrote. “My parents had an elementary school education but a DOCTORATE IN LOVE! I am just following their advice from years ago & doing everything in my power to win these battles.
“I luckily have a great support TEAM with a great wife of 50 years plus my daughters live five minutes from us. They have been at my side thru chemotherapy treatments, scans, bloodwork etc plus I have super medical people that are handling my challenges.”
Vitale was quick to note early in our four-text exchange, which included 852 words in response to my questions, that what he has been dealing with “can’t compare to what many others face.” But Vitale has been dealing with a lot, and he’s needed every bit of his famous optimism.
Last August, he revealed he had been diagnosed with melanoma over the summer but was cancer-free. In October, another cancer struck: he was diagnosed with lymphoma, and also required surgery for a bile-duct blockage that same month.
Vitale missed the start of the college basketball season while undergoing chemotherapy, but made an emotional return to call the matchup between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA in November. But in December he announced he would be taking extended time off after a visit with Zeitels revealed he had precancerous dysplasia and ulcerated lesions on the vocal cords. In late January, three weeks before his eventual three-hour vocal cord surgery, he acknowledged that he would not be able to return this season.
“The last few months have put some real challenges in front of me,’’ he texted. “[The cancer treatments] were compounded with vocal cord surgery that shut me down from doing what I love, sitting courtside talking college basketball.
“I have always tried in life to look at the glass half full & not half empty. For years I have given many motivational speeches and always stressed how vital it is to be mentally tough during tough times. I have tried to utilize that with what I have been dealing with.
“The fans & certainly all of my family, friends & my 2nd family – all my colleagues at ESPN – have lifted my spirits with their many prayers & love that they constantly send.”
Vitale, who still posts daily motivational tip videos on Twitter that he recorded in the weeks before his surgery, has a crucial doctor’s visit Monday.
“My MARCH MADNESS personally starts Monday as I must go for over a 1 hour PET SCAN [PET stands for positron emission tomography] that will determine the status of my cancer,” he texted. “It will also indicate if & or I must continue with chemotherapy. Yes, as many cancer patients know, it is a time of great anxiety.”
He returns to Boston March 16 for a visit with Zeitels to analyze his progress from his vocal cord surgery, and that could offer some clarity on whether he will be able to return for the 2022-23 college basketball season. He has comfort in knowing he couldn’t be in steadier hands. Zeitels is world-renowned, and performed the singer Adele’s vocal cord surgery in 2011.
“Starting with my Head Coach Dr. Z, who is the Larry Bird of the vocal cords plus everyone at the hospital were AWESOME BABY with a capital A,’’ texted Vitale, using one of his catchphrases that long ago became part of college basketball’s lexicon. “I am praying for some good news with the Pet Scan & the exam by Dr. Zeitels.”
Even as he faces his own scary challenges, Vitale is thinking of others. His annual Dick Vitale Gala, which is scheduled for May 6 in Sarasota, Fla., raises money for pediatric cancer research through the V Foundation for Cancer Research, named after his late friend and ESPN colleague Jim Valvano. Last year, the event raised $6.5 million. The goal this year is $7 million. Donations can be made on his website, dickvitale.cm.
“I wanted to be candid about my situation because I wanted people to have a real understanding of what the journey is in trying to win the battle vs the cancer you face,’’ he texted. “It is constant visits for blood work, scans, chemo treatments, and in my case shots 24 hours after chemo called neupogen. As cancer patients that must get that shot can tell you, they can produce intense bone pain for 72 hours, which I recently had.”
Vitale may not be allowed to speak right now. But we can practically hear his famous voice when we read his words. And they are words that need to be heard.
“I want the people to realize how dollars are needed for the oncologists doing research to come up with new medicines to beat this dreaded disease. And every day, I am thinking about my late buddy Jimmy V’s message. “Don’t give up. DON’T EVER GIVE UP.”