Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HS coach's wife battles cancer

Better days

Author(s):    Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Date: August 27, 1999
Page: 1
Section: SportsXtra

Rose Drach knew what was coming and knew the only way to meet it was head on. She would get mouth sores and fatigue and lose her hair. If she wanted less agony, there would be more nausea; that's the deal she had to make with the pain medicine.

Rose, a dean at Naperville Central and wife of St. Charles football coach Buck Drach, didn't know everything.

The recurrence of the rare sinus cancer doctors discovered four years earlier, in 1991, brought new evils.

A surgeon removed a chunk of her face under an eye and next to the bridge of the nose, and when her body rejected the titanium plate put in to support the eye, the screws started to push through the skin.

There was enough scar tissue to support the eye, but the radiation-ravaged skin would no longer regenerate to cover the hole, which was about the size of the end of a pinky.

Surgery eventually covered the gap with forehead skin, but the eye doesn't close all the way now, and Rose keeps it moist with a salve. Because of damage to the tear duct, it tears constantly.

Rose had to start irrigating her open sinus cavity with a Water Pic, and because of scar tissue she could barley open her mouth. The humidity in the Drach home had to be kept at 95 percent.

She hadn't seen all that coming, but instead of giving in, Rose chose to give. Again.

* * *

Rose and modern medicine had beaten back the cancer in 1991.

She lost 40 pounds, and though she could only handle two of the three prescribed rounds of chemotherapy, the tumors shrank.

Two days before the Saints' 1993 season opener with Streamwood, doctors diagnosed one of Streamwood's captains, Greg Wajs, with a cancer similar to Rose's.

Rose and Buck shared everything they had learned with Wajs during his nine-month treatment.

The couple introduced him to the right doctors, took him to treatments and calmed his Polish parents, who didn't speak much English.

"It was amazing what they did for him," says Streamwood football coach John Padjen, then in his first year with the Sabres. "It's hard to explain the total unselfishness and willingness to help."

Buck Drach and Padjen began a postgame tradition that year. Each would talk to the other's team, and not about the game just completed.

The 1996 game was no different, except that Rose did the talking. The effects of her second battle with the cancer were obvious, yet she wanted to thank the Sabres for their help in raising funds for her and Buck.

Streamwood had lost a game it thought it should have won.

"It was a very emotional time for our players," Padjen says. "(Rose) helped them understand what they were there for instead of just football.

"It is something we have continuously used in our program, that we're not only here for football."

Wajs is now cancer-free and a college student.

Rose's cancer has spread to her liver and bones.

* * *

Buck practically bursts when he recalls meeting Rose.

He was, and still is, a dean at St. Charles, and Rose was teaching kids with behavior disorders at St. Charles. She'd had some sort of episode with a student and charged into the dean's office swearing up a storm.

"I thought she was a longshoreman," he laughs. "She's got quite a spunk to her."

They married in 1991 and had an instant family. Buck had two kids from a previous marriage, and she had one.

Cancer has been a part of the clan, too, but depression and self-pity are not allowed in the home the Drachs have made.

"It's been awfully easy for me, because I see what she goes through and see how she handles it," he says. "It's just unbelievable. She's absolutely amazing.

"She's got a tremendously positive attitude. She just won't let it beat her. She's got some goals in life; she wants to see her (eighth-grade) son (Brandon) graduate from high school and college.

"She's a fighter. She's unbelievable."

* * *

Rose and Buck and Brandon moved into a new home this summer - "We love it," Buck says - and they thought the pain Rose felt in her back and hip was from packing boxes and lifting them.

Rose visited a chiropractor, who gave her acupuncture which caused flu-like symptoms that were expected but didn't go away.

She entered a hospital with fatigue, nausea and increasing pain. A bone scan done to investigate high calcium levels revealed the second recurrence.

Rose knows what's coming, and knows the only way to meet it is head on.

"That's the hardest thing for me, to see her frustrated," Buck says. "There's nothing I can say or do to change it."

For the first time, Rose's doctors have mentioned life expectancy. They say this time the treatment is not for curing but for extending, for turning months into years.

"I've given that a lot of thought," Buck says on one of the few days he shows up for Saints preseason practice. "In one way, we're probably lucky.

"You pick up the newspaper, and somebody's killed on the road or someone's killed by a misguided bullet. Those people didn't get a chance to say goodbye.

"In a way, I feel pretty damn lucky that I don't have to put stuff off until tomorrow. I can do stuff today."

* * *

Today. Opening night of the 1999 IHSA football season.

There will be two football games at St. Charles High School, one for the sophomores at 6 p.m., followed by the varsity battle. Evanston, one of the Chicago area's best programs, is the opponent.

Buck's players know everything about Rose that he knows. Buck's assistant coaches may know more about Buck's players than Buck knows.

Buck made it to about half the practices, and then was sometimes only half there.

"As a team, we think of ourselves as a big family," says senior linebacker Josh Pease, whose older brother Jason organized a fund-raising run for Rose during the first recurrence.

"When something like this happens, it's pretty heavy, so we all come together."

Buck says Rose's eight-year ordeal has helped turn outward the support the St. Charles athletic department has shown him and Rose.

"You have to be there when you're needed," Saints athletic director Wayne DeMaar says.

There are giving trees and visits to nursing homes and donations to food pantries. There was fund-raising for the family of Rachel Heaton, a St. Charles native now living in Geneva who has battled cancer for most of her 14 years.

The wrestling team helps counsel residents of the St. Charles campus of the Glenwood School for Boys, a boarding school for boys from troubled or poor homes.

The giving didn't all start in 1991, but it has expanded since then. A coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe it's the same kind of coincidence that gave Wajs the rare form of cancer Rose has and put him on a football team that was playing her husband's team two days after it was diagnosed.

Buck is sure of one thing. He's always been sure of it.

"We'll be a much better team because of this," he says. "These kids are better off because they're finding out what's really important in life.

"It's not football. It's their friends and family."
© Copyright Daily Herald, Paddock Publications, Inc.


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