By BOB CRAMER
Lee Blankenship, Mustang High School’s head football coach, says assistant Cody McDaniel has the mentality of a fighter. And for good reason.
McDaniel, 32, has been through an ordeal no person should have to endure. The Broncos’ offensive coordinator/offensive line coach has beaten both colon and stomach cancer.
“He was 22. You think you’re invincible,” said Blankenship, who then was coaching with McDaniel at Gore in 2011. “It never occurred to me that something so serious and life threatening could happen to one of my friends.”
McDaniel, an offensive lineman at East Central University, showed his toughness during the next year. He was 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds at ECU, but said the disease caused his weight to fall about 50 pounds.
“I would go through long spells of fatigue,” McDaniel said. “I just put my head down and tried to bull my way through it. I was so anemic my skin tone was paste white. I didn’t know if I was that out of shape. My doctor said, ‘Let’s run some blood tests.’”
Dr. Diana O’Connor took a blood sample, told McDaniel not to leave, and immediately went to her lab to test it. Ten to 15 minutes later, one of those moments came for McDaniel that can’t be forgotten. His hemoglobin, the red protein responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood, was dangerously low.
“She was more in shock than I was,” McDaniel said. “She said my hemoglobin was 4.8. It’s supposed to be 15 to 18. She said when your hemoglobin gets that low, with my body size, she didn’t know how I was sitting up. It gets that low, your body doesn’t function, keeping your heart beating or your organs working. There’s not enough blood.”
McDaniel said O’Connor ordered an ambulance, but he stubbornly refused and drove himself to Oklahoma City’s Integris Baptist Hospital emergency room. The next day he was diagnosed and scheduled for surgery.
“I still remember the day: June 11,” he said. “I was bleeding through my stomach and stool. The first thing the ER doctor did was order a blood transfusion. Your body only holds seven units of blood. Because I was bleeding, they gave me seven units.”
Doctors gave McDaniel only a 50-50 chance to recover, he said. Normally, colonoscopies to test for cancer aren’t urged until age 40. His parents, Donnie and Denise, now deceased, and fiancée, Jade, his future wife, were stunned.
McDaniel said the surgeon removed the large intestine and one-third of his stomach to eliminate infected tissue and 24 lymph nodes.
McDaniel said it took him 17 days to heal before he could leave the hospital. He would begin chemotherapy a month later.
His oncologist, Dr. Romeo Mandanas, wanted McDaniel placed on a chemo pump and to have intravenous treatments through the veins and his elbow “that felt like acid going in.”
But so he could coach, McDaniel convinced Mandanas to prescribe an experimental pill instead of the chemo pump. He was treated weekly for cancer over the next 12 months.
After practices Tuesday, McDaniel would drive from Gore to Integris Cancer Institute in Edmond for treatments, then he’d return for Wednesday practices.
There was a severe side-effect to hot and cold things.
“I had to drink lukewarm water all the time,” he said, and cold and hot water felt like knives stabbing his skin.
“I’d look over and he’s throwing up,” Blankenship said. “That’s how tough he is, how committed he is. He’s the epitome of what a coach should aspire to be. He’s a great football coach, but he’s about making a positive impact on the kids. That’s bigger than football.”
McDaniel said his cancer went into remission in June 2012. He has turned having the disease into a positive experience.
“This is where I discovered my purpose as a person and coach,” McDaniel said. “It’s all about the decisions you make in life to influence the people around you. Don’t miss an opportunity to build others up.
“There wasn’t a day go by that I didn’t think of others. My family did a blood drive. So many people helped me through prayer and donations that I don’t know all their names. It’s very humbling. I just want to thank everyone that helped me through it.”