Kevin Massey: Bouncing Back in a Big Way

I first wrote about Kevin Massey and his battle with an inoperable brain tumor back in February 2010 for A Sea of  Kevin, a student-athlete at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, grew up a Kentucky Wildcat fan, even though he lives in the heart of Hoosier country.  When Kentucky head coach John Calipari discovered the young man’s plight, he was so touched, he surprised Kevin and his family with a hospital visit during last season.  That visit was just the beginning of Calipari’s involvement in the young man’s life. If you haven’t read the original article about Kevin and Coach Cal, I encourage you to read it here before reading this follow-up piece.

Coach Cal and Kevin Massey visit shortly before last year's Final Four in Indy

Sometimes life transcends sport, and sometimes the good guys win.  Such is the case with Kevin Massey.  For with the support and love of his family and friends, along with nearly the entire Big Blue Nation, Kevin is well on his way to conquering the greatest, most fearsome foe any teenager is likely to ever face.  Through his own self-determination, though, Kevin has looked death directly in the eye on more than one occasion, and repelled the demons, clearing his path to recovery.

John Calipari, who has continued to stay in touch with Kevin and his family through phone calls, along with another visit to the hospital just before the Final Four, and again surprising Kevin with a visit to his high school (yes, Kevin is back in school), has shown that one coach, by virtue of one good deed, can positively impact a life beyond the scope of the basketball court.  And Calipari has truly taught us all a lesson in going beyond the “least we can do,” to show a family that people they don’t even know, care about their circumstance.

“I’ve said it a lot but it’s worth saying it again,” Coach Cal said. “You cheat this position that I’m in if you don’t use it for good. There is no job in the country where you can impact as many people as you can with this job. Being able to meet Kevin and his family and to have the Big Blue Nation get behind him – well, that’s just part of this job that I always need to be aware of.”

With that awareness, Coach Calipari delights in sharing the story of Kevin Massey and being able to be a part of the young man’s life.

Although Kevin still uses a wheel chair to get around, he has at least partial use of his arms, legs, and fingers, and has been granted a driver’s permit (the Massey’s have a van they are configuring to allow Kevin to drive).  He’s attended a school dance, gone fishing numerous times, attended a New York Yankees game, and took a family vacation to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Obviously, the progress Kevin has made is simply remarkable, especially considering only a few short months ago, his parents, Dwain and Ruth, did not know how much longer their youngest son would be with them.  But through radiation treatments and rigorous physical rehabilitation, Kevin has journeyed from what some (including the doctors) thought would be his death bed, to become a fully involved young man.  So involved, Kevin says, that “I have been able to do so much this summer, but what stands out the most as my favorite thing was going to Daytona Beach, Florida.  Because I am a family man, and it was a great vacation with everyone who loves me the most.  I was also able to swim!  That was something the doctors said I could never do again.”

Coach Cal and Kevin Massey first met when Kevin was in the hospital last February

Kevin’s rehabilitation is of course very challenging, but it is something he knows he must endure, and his attitude is terrific.  He says, “Rehabbing is hard, but it is getting good.  I don’t like to go, but I go because I know it is what I have to do to keep getting better.  Physical therapy makes me sweat up a storm; it wears me out every time I go.  But, I am now working on walking with a walker and riding a bicycle.  Occupational therapy is also going well; my current goal is to learn how to write better with my left hand.”

Whenever a person must go through the rigors of rehabbing, it’s a journey best taken with a bevy of support in the form of family and friends.  When asked what the outpouring of good wishes and prayers from strangers has meant to him and his outlook, Kevin had this to say, “It has meant everything.  EVERYTHING, and I mean everything to me.  It showed me everyone cares and many people aren’t selfish.  And I really want to thank everyone who has prayed for me.”

How difficult it must be for an ordinary teenager, to gather the will and energy to fight to regain his own body.  But Kevin isn’t an “ordinary” teenager. Typically, Kevin credits others for compelling him to battle, saying, “My family, and friends, including the ones I have never met before” are the persons responsible for motivating him to fight.  That, plus Kevin says, “that I want to live my life, get up every day, and keep fighting the fight.”

“Isn’t that great?” asked Coach Cal. “Don’t you just love his spirit and his determination? I think we all can learn a lot from this young man. I know I have.”

To his great credit, Kevin isn’t shy about praising his family for being his steadfast support staff, “They are everything, the reason I want to wake up in the morning, especially my mom and mamaw.  I love all of my family more than words can express.  Many of my friends like Sari, Rachael, Tyler, Jacob, Cooper, Dylan, Chris, Austin and many, many more I consider a part of my family, too.”

Along with Kevin’s childhood friends, he learned that he has thousands of fellow UK fans who are rooting for him and his recovery.  He learned, through his Caring Bridge page, that Kentucky fans rally around their own, which has meant the world to him.  Kevin says that the Wildcat fans who wrote mean “everything” to him, and he added, “we have the BEST FANS EVER!  Go UK!”  Kevin says the unyielding support shown by Wildcat fans “shows we (UK fans) stick together like a big ol’ family.”

And what about the Top Cat?  The Wildcat who first made us all aware of Kevin and his stroke of unbelievably bad luck? What about the Wildcat who first made us aware of the courage and determination of a 16-year old Wildcat fan saddled with a life-threatening illness?

Well, when I asked Kevin about John Calipari’s February visit, and what it meant to him, he had this to say, “I don’t remember much about the hospital visit, but I do remember getting the (game) ball and crying.  I have had a couple of phone calls from Coach Cal since being home, and it means the world to me.  It was a dream of mine to meet Coach Cal; I would watch him on TV and think it would be cool to meet him.  And now I have; I wish it was under better circumstances, but he is a friend and hero of mine.  I want to be like him … how he cares about other people and fans.”  He’s “not wanting anything out of them.”  And because of that “I admire him so much.”

And finally, to illustrate not only Cal’s impact on Kevin, but to show what a tremendous young man Kevin is, I’d like to share with you some unsolicited thoughts Kevin sent me via email about Coach Cal, Kevin’s family and friends, and the Big Blue Nation:

“Coach Cal is a nice guy and has great character and a huge heart,” Kevin said.  For him “it’s not all about basketball and the money.  Also, there has been very little media coverage of his three visits, this just isn’t a media stunt.”  Coach Cal is “really inspiring, and he gave me a goal to work toward; he said I can be a (UK) team manager if I keep my grades up.”

“Wouldn’t that be something?” said Coach Cal. “I’m looking forward to that day when he comes on campus and joins our staff of managers. He’s just got to keep up with his school work and do the best he can every day.”

“I want to also thank everyone for praying for me, and for their undying support and believing in me,” Kevin said. “My mom, dad, grandparents, Marissa (sister), Duke (brother), aunts, uncles, friends, and the Big Blue Nation, thank you, and I love you.  I will be a freshman at UK in the fall of 2012 … keep those prayers coming.  Also, hi Coach Cal, I can’t wait to see you again.”

If there ever was a young man deserving of our admiration and respect, it’s Kevin.  The heart and courage he has displayed over the last nine-months is a singular tribute to his character, and a living example of why the late NC State coach Jim Valvano’s motto — “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!”  — are words to live by.

I have to say, I’m proud of our coach, but I’m even more proud of Kevin.  From all the Big Blue Nation, thank you, Kevin, for it’s you that has been the teacher.

If you would like to make a donation to the Massey family to help with Kevin’s rapidly mounting medical bills, send the donation to: Mutual Savings Bank, 5630 South Franklin Road, Indianapolis, IN   46239
Or Call: (317) 862-2030
A note and/or monetary donation can also be made at Kevin’s Caring Bridge Page.