Cancer can't stop Monette
NORTHVILLE Tim Monette’s switch only has one setting: On.
Basketball coach John Karbowski sent his senior co-captain into Northville High’s home game against Canajoharie on Wednesday, and Tim did his Tim thing, sprinting back, setting picks, grabbing an offensive rebound, getting fouled.
If his game is inelegant, it is also ferociously and gleefully disruptive and unyielding.
“He took four charges … in a scrimmage,” Karbowski said in wonder.
Circumstances have put Tim’s rocket fuel in low reserve these days, though, so he came out of the Canajoharie game in the second quarter, never to return, at least not on this night.
In a weird way, it seems almost logical that if Tim were to get cancer, he’d do that full steam ahead, too.
And that’s pretty much what happened.
By the time the tumor below his right kidney was found, it was the size of a baseball, and his doctors estimated that it took only about a month to get that big. A few days later, it was bigger. Two days later, the Falcons’ season began.
The fact that Tim has recovered quickly enough to get back on his beloved basketball court is a reflection mostly of his determination and positive attitude, but also a collective embrace from everyone around him. That ranges well beyond the boundaries of his tiny town on the Great Sacandaga Lake.
What grew so rapidly inside him was far outstripped by what grew on the outside.
Even in a tight community like Northville, there are divisions, as evidenced by the proposal to merge with the Mayfield school district that was voted down on Tuesday. A house in town with a “Yes” sign on its lawn could abut another lawn with a “No”.
On the issue of Tim Monette, there is no such division, and it’s easy to see why. With his senior year of high school and his whole life in front of him, he had everything waylaid in a matter of weeks by cancer.
Then he took the charge and picked himself up.
“I really couldn’t imagine going through what he’s going through,” said his friend and co-captain, Kalob Russell, shaking his head. “He’s taking it really good. He’s a strong kid.”
“I’ll be honest, I would hope I would react the way Tim’s reacting if that happened to me, but I don’t know,” Karbowski said. “He’s taken this in stride, he’s been in good spirits and since he’s been back here, he’s been all smiles. The kid is happy to be here.”
Tim was on a roll last fall, leading the Northville soccer team to a 14-2-3 record with 12 shutouts as the Falcons’ goalie.
Northville won the Western Athletic Conference North Division and made it to the Section II Class D final before losing to fierce rival Fort Ann, 2-1. Tim was named to the Class B-C-D all-state second team. The MVP of the basketball team last year, he was expected to play a prominent role for the Falcons this winter.
Tim had sharp stomachaches the final month of soccer that were attributed to the usual suspects. There was a bug going around. Kids are in school. They get sick.
When the pains persisted, he was sent for a CAT scan, and there it was: a mass tangled up in his intestines. A biopsy at Albany Med delivered even worse news.
“When I heard ‘cancer,’ I was scared, but I told myself I was ready to go through this and survive,” Tim said. “I never thought anything like this would happen to me.
“But I was ready to face it.”
The diagnosis was Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of cancer known for its aggressive growth rate.
The good news was that it was spotted early. Tim did his research and found that there was a 90 percent survival rate.
More good news was that, as fast as a Burkitt’s tumor grows, it can be beaten back just as rapidly. Surgery was risky, so he was treated with chemotherapy.
“It was very shocking,” Russell said. “It was tough to see him go through that.”
“We’re a family around here,” Karbowski said. “These kids are real close. We all had to take a step back. For awhile, basketball was a second thought for us.”
Tim spent two weeks at Albany Med while his team started the season without him.
He got out in time to attend their first WAC game, an overtime win at Canajoharie on Dec. 4.
“My kids play hard. But they were playing harder,” Karbowski said. “There was something special about him being there. It really pushed them, and ultimately, that was the difference in the game, to be honest with you.”
Then the unthinkable happened. Tim was cleared by his doctors to play, and that was all he needed to hear.
Flanked by a team who shaved their heads in solidarity, he started against Duanesburg in the opening game of Northville’s holiday tournament on Dec. 27.
“Oh, that was amazing,” Russell said.
The switch on, Tim dove on the floor for loose balls and tried to draw charges. Even the Duanesburg Eagles applauded, reflecting a growing development.
Other teams around Section II had heard about his condition and rallied around him.
Fort Ann soccer player Chris Jackson came up with an idea to sell commemorative koozies to help Tim’s family defray medical and travel costs; Schoharie put a bucket out at their home games asking for donations; Canajoharie wore blue stripes on the shoulder straps of their jerseys on Wednesday. Cards and letters from places like North Warren and Doane Stuart keep flowing in.
“We’re competitors on the basketball court, but there’s a more important game going on outside the court, and we’re on the same playing field,” Canajoharie coach Phil Schoff said. “He’s back on the court. What kind of inspiration is that? He’s taken something negative and turned it into a positive.”
“It’s been absolutely amazing to see how people have come together,” Karbowski said.
If there’s anything for Tim to be discouraged about now it’s that the cancer has taken away his best asset on the court.
The indefatigable player who was in there for every minute of some games last year played less than a quarter of Wednesday’s blowout loss to Canajoharie.
Each game day, he has to check in with his doctor for a blood test for cell and platelet counts that decide whether he can suit up.
“I’m not that good, but I hustle a lot,” he said with the grin of unvarnished self-awareness. “And that’s why I do OK as a player. So it’s kind of hard now, because I get tired kind of quick. It’s hard.
“That’s my whole game.”
Such absolutes can be tricky. A blood test can say “Yes” or “No”. A doctor can say “Go” or “Stop”.
As always, Tim Monette’s switch is “On”. That means he’s on the court. And that’s more than enough.