Seattle coach Dan Hughes knows that his team's upcoming game against Minnesota will be more emotional for him than many other games this season. It's the Storm's annual Breast Health Awareness night.
While breast cancer survivors will be honored at Sunday's game, it has special meaning for Hughes, who had a cancerous tumor in his digestive tract removed during training camp. He has made a full recovery and returned to the bench on June 21 after missing the team's first nine games.
"I've always told people that the best thing the WNBA has done is the Breast Health Awareness game," Hughes said. "It has been special. When you hear the word cancer in your life, things that you've done in the past carry a little different meaning to you. You're thankful. Let's look at the reality. I went through cancer not quite knowing what they are going to find when they do the surgery. What they found was pretty good. I go through screenings every three months to make sure I'm a healthy guy."
The Storm are hoping to raise $25,000 for the Swedish Cancer Institute's Patient Assistance Fund, through an online auction , 50/50 raffle and promotional ticket offer. Hughes had his surgery at the Swedish Medical Center.
On Sunday, Hughes will remember a college teammate who was diagnosed with cancer soon after his diagnosis. The Storm's leader sent a text offering his thoughts and saying that he had just gone through cancer surgery himself. Unfortunately, his former teammate died two weeks ago.
"There are different endings to this story. I feel called to represent the ones that keep going," the 64-year-old Hughes said. "I'm a faithful guy. I feel God said I want you to deal with this, but I want you to keep going."
Hughes recalled how one of the first people who reached out to him when he was diagnosed said that now he'll not only be known as a basketball coach, but also a cancer survivor.
"Our Breast Cancer Awareness night you'll see that," he said. "Yes this is a deadly disease, but you also want to celebrate the people who continue to move on in life."
The veteran coach did say that while cancer has given him more of an appreciation for life, it hasn't completely changed his coaching habits. Losses still sting.
"I still bottom out, I can't lie to you," he said, laughing. "When I do bottom out, it does enter my mind. This is still way better than me being unable to live life. It does enter. I still bottom out. I don't care what you're dealing with, if you're a coach and you lose, it's just hell. But it does creep in. You're out here living life and doing probably what you are supposed to be doing."
One of the many things that Hughes learned while being sidelined by the cancer was how to delegate more to his assistants. That is something he admits his younger self could never have done.
"One of the first things cancer patients told me is that you have to trust other people and let other people help you," he said. "If you're a driven coach, 20 years ago, no way (I'd be able to delegate as much). You learn. My cancer rehab doctor said to me. You've been around, you're a bright guy, you figure out how to help your team from where you are. Those are pretty good words. I feel a lot of appreciation for people doing their jobs around me that helps all of us do what we're trying to do."
Assistant coach Gary Kloppenburg, who took over while Hughes was out, said that he saw a change in the head coach.
"He definitely took the doctor's advice," Kloppenburg said. "He was still around as a consultant, but he had total faith in his staff that we could handle it until he got back."