Derrick Colter is cancer free now. Not quite two years after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Duquesne’s senior point guard has been reassured at his regular six-month check-ups that the disease is in the rearview.
Yet in another sense it will always be a part of him, always define him — emboldening him while at the same time giving him pause, simultaneously making him seize the day and smell the roses.
And at present he is taking a deep sniff. The Dukes, 33-58 his first three seasons, are off to a 10-4 start, and the 5-11 Colter is averaging a team-best (and career-high) 17.6 points a game heading into Wednesday’s game at Davidson, with another at George Washington coming up Saturday on ASN.
He has not shot the ball well lately — 24% over his last five games — but he is upright. He is whole.
And he is charging ahead.
“It’s like, anything is possible,” he said, looking back at his cancer battle. “If you can beat that, you can beat anything, even a little game. You can do anything.”
Like appreciate the big picture.
“Every day, you’ve just got to be thankful, because you don’t know,” he said. “Any second, any moment, something can happen to you, and you can be done for the rest of your life. You can’t take anything for granted.”
According to a September 2014 profile by ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neill, Colter felt a small lump in the back of his neck in March of that year, toward the end of his sophomore season. He alerted Duquesne athletic trainer Vic Bauer, who voiced his concern to team doctors.
They in turn sought out Dr. Stanley Marks, the deputy director of clinical services for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as well as Pitt’s Cancer Institute.
Marks ordered a biopsy, which on April 22 revealed the sad truth.
Beginning May 1, Colter underwent 20 rounds of radiation treatment over a one-month period at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. He did so without complaint, O’Neill reported, wondering only when he might be able to start working out again.
“Part of me was like, well, maybe he didn’t understand how serious it was,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. “And part of me was like, you know what? Let him be. He’s approaching it the right way. He wasn’t going to let it affect his whole life.”
Colter was heartened by his parents, James and Angela, not to mention the memory of his older brother JJ. Derrick had seen him live out his days with cerebral palsy, unable to speak or walk before his death in 2012 at age 33. Derrick adored JJ, and does still; he has a tattoo and keychain that offer tribute to him, and also scrawls his name on his sneakers before every game.
But at that point in his life, Derrick believed that the best way to honor JJ was to approach his affliction as courageously as his brother had approached his.
“I was thinking about what he was going through when he was little,” he said. “I was like, ‘If he can battle, I know I can battle, because we’ve both got the same genes, same blood.’”
He didn’t like being some four hours away from his home in Forestville, Md., during the treatments. And the radiation knocked him flat; all he wanted to do was sleep.
It wasn’t until late June that he began feeling like himself again. That was also just about the time he was told that the disease was in remission. And on July 14 he recorded the first triple-double in the history of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am, according to the Post-Gazette — 33 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds.
He followed that up with a junior season in which he led the Dukes in scoring (13.2 points a game) and assists (3.6), becoming one of just four players in DU history to record 100 or more assists in three consecutive seasons. (Only two have done it a fourth time. One of those is Norm Nixon, who went on to a long, successful NBA career.)
Colter has continued to forge ahead this season. With occasional stops along the way to smell the roses.