Coby Karl: Papillary Thyroid Cancer

Coby KarlPeople doubting me—it’s kind of a theme for me.  In high school, I didn’t make the varsity team until my junior year.  I wasn’t all-state and didn’t get any scholarship offers coming out of high school.  I was a walk-on at Boise State and ended up working my way up to first-team all conference my senior year.  But I heard from time-to-time—whether it’s a fan in the crowd or someone’s mom or just some random person—that I am who I am because of who my father is.  He’s an NBA coach.  But I earned the spot where I’m at now.

When I was a junior in college, I felt a lump in my throat around the time training camp was starting.  I pretty much only told my girlfriend, but I gave it a month to see if I was sick or something.  After a month, it was still there and I got a little more worried but my trainer wanted to wait to see if it would go away.  It was probably a good four months, though, from the time I found the lump to when I went for a needle biopsy with the doctors.  At that point, I hadn’t even told my mom.  I hadn’t really told anyone because I’d rather not have people worry about me if there’s nothing to worry about.  I was depressed and a little worried, but not necessarily about me—the people around you are more worried about you than you are.

The mind runs the body and not the other way around.  After the doc took out my thyroid, I was feeling a bit sluggish, sleepy, and I gained a little weight.  But I said if I can go, I’ll play.  I was back on the floor with the guys and in the weight room the day the doctor told me I could.  About a month later, I had to get a blood test to see what my THS levels were and I think mine were 10 times higher than the norm.  The doctors told me those were the highest levels they’d ever seen and wondered how I was going to school, playing ball, and doing pretty much everything I normally did.  I was pretty proud of that.

I almost blew off the NBA pre-draft camp my junior year, but I wanted to prove to people that I could play at a high level.  It was definitely the biggest challenge in my life physically to get from post-surgery to pre-draft camp.  I wasn’t bad and I wasn’t good.  But I resolved to come back for my senior year and just celebrate basketball.  Celebrate what I’d been through.

I was enjoying my senior year and my teammates—the opportunity I’ve had throughout my college career—and about halfway through the year, I had to come in for more tests.  At this point, you start to get to know the system—you’re not going to have tests run unless there’s something wrong, so that’s when my heart dropped.  I had been enjoying my life and season and when that happened again, it just floored me.  The funny thing is I had one of my better games of the season that night.  I scored 20 points.  And that week, I won player of the week honors—the only time in my four years at Boise State.  That just shows you it’s more about the mind than your given talent.

Coby Karl funI went back to my doc in Boise who wanted me to go back on radioactive iodine treatment, and my dad arranged for me to meet a specialist in Denver for my kind of cancer.  This doc [in Denver] told me the iodine treatments were 20% effective, but the doc in Boise said they were 80% effective.    That pissed me off more than anything.  I got really frustrated.  How can there be that much difference in knowledge or expertise?  I ended up going with the guy in Denver, but waited to do surgery and treatment until the season was over.

I’m not sure how many of the players on my team knew I had cancer.  I’m not sure if I like it that way or if I would have liked more of them to know.  I got through the second round of treatment all right.  I met with the guy in Denver again for some follow-up and now I just take two pills a day.  The guys on the team who did know gave me some respect because they saw I was in the gym every day that I could possibly be in it; it showed them I worked for what I got.  Before cancer, I was a fringe NBA player—I doubt many people had scouted me.  I take pride that I’ve gotten through cancer and made it to the NBA.  I’m stronger on the other side.

Coby is a six-year survivor.