Dick Vitale built an entire career based on his impressive vocal projection of sports. So, when the historic ESPN commentator was diagnosed with cancer and forced to keep quiet for three months, it was no surprise he struggled to keep a smile on his face.
In October of 2021, the 84-year-old shared that he was diagnosed with lymphoma, cancer that targets the body’s lymph system. During an ongoing investigation into his health, doctors went on to determine he had a precancerous dysplasia growth on his throat. If left untreated, the growth could have become cancerous and threatened his life, so an additional treatment route was added to his already existing lymphoma treatment.
“You’re just depressed,” Vitale shared with Graham Bensinger on his show, In Depth with Graham Bensinger. “You’re down, you’re upset, you’re frustrated.”
Due to the precancerous dysplasia, the sports commentator had to have regular checkups for his throat. In order to ensure the growth did not enlarge, Vitale was instructed by doctors to restrict vocal chord usage, which left him unable to talk for months. For him, this was the most harrowing aspect of treatment.
Dick Vitale details the emotional toll not speaking had on his life: ‘I felt trapped’
“[Talking has] been my livelihood … Here’s what I’m known for, being a talkative kind of guy, going out, having fun,” he commented. “Not only just the games but all my life … And I missed that. I missed being me. I felt trapped. I felt trapped. I couldn’t express myself. I just felt trapped.”
However, Vitale’s change in personality wasn’t just apparent to him. His own children noticed a shift in energy and took note of his low spirits.
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“It was such a devastating, emotional blow,” Dick’s daughter, Terri, recalled. “Him not being able to engage and not be able to talk and us not knowing the outcome of that — it was definitely the darkest time. I’m not a medical professional, but I’m gonna use the word ‘depressed.’ I would say he was emotionally defeated.”
With this cancer treatment having such significant emotional side effects, Vitale had to exercise multiple coping mechanisms. According to Terri, her father took solace in social media and interacting with the general population online.
“Thank God for social media — especially when he couldn’t talk — because he would get messages from people like ‘praying for you,’ ‘thinking of you,’ sharing their story like, ‘I’m in chemo too,’ ” she explained.
“Let me tell you; he read every single one of them. He probably responded to most of them, and they all resonated with him, and it was why he did it more. He literally got energy in his darkest moments through social media, through people engaging with him in that way.”
As of mid-April, the ESPN commentator is officially cancer-free and recently celebrated his last chemotherapy treatment.
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