Throughout his arduous cancer treatment last spring, there were days when George Karl felt like his health was never going to get better.
Each time things seemed bleak, the Nuggets coach would receive a guiding hand in the form of a phone call, a visit or a letter.
One of those pick-me-ups came courtesy of NBA colleague Jim Boylan, a Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach who went through the same treatment and recovery process for head and neck cancer in 2009.
During Milwaukee’s appearance in Denver on March 20, Boylan wrote Karl a letter offering encouragement and a personal account of what to expect while trying to endure intense radiation and chemotherapy.
“I felt a connection with George,” Boylan said Wednesday after the Bucks’ only game in Denver this season. “I wanted to share with him the hope. The greatest thing you can have in those situations is hope. I wanted to give that to him.”
From one coach and cancer survivor to another, the letter resonated with Karl.
“He just told me good things and good thoughts,” Karl said. “He said it’s going to be tough but you’ll get through it. You’ll make it. He gave me a lot of confidence in that area.
“There’s no question that (it held a special meaning) when you have a guy that’s a basketball coach and he made it back and he was coaching within six months. It was uplifting in a lot of ways.”
Karl and Boylan were able to spend about 10 minutes talking after Wednesday’s morning shootaround, sharing stories about basketball and life.
Boylan is nearing his 18-month anniversary since his last radiation treatment; Karl is about eight months removed from his last treatment.
“I’m still like George. I’m a cancer survivor,” Boylan said. “If you feel something in your throat, you’re like, ‘What was that feeling?' There’s always that thought in your mind. You hit milestones and things start to get back to normal with your taste buds and your saliva and all the basic things you take for granted.”
Karl, indeed, is slowly regaining his sense of taste and his energy level continues to improve daily. All the while, Boylan has monitored Karl's progress from afar, thrilled to see that things are turning out just the way he said they would in his letter from eight months earlier.
“I basically told him he was going to get better, things were going to be fine,” Boylan said. “There’s going to be moments of doubt and fear, but with the proper treatment and care he was going to pull through and things were going to get better. So far, that’s proven to be true. I’m happy for that.”