Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Ex-Cedar Hill coach David Milson battles cancer, receives outpouring of support from Dallas area
Every season is a journey, a blur of timeouts and practices, of losses that sting and victories that spark, and of faces. David Milson remembers the faces, the people.
Thirty-one years coaching basketball, 31 years connecting.
"You can change somebody's life," he says, "by speaking to them."
He randomly spoke to a young stranger named Eddie Berumen one time at the state tournament in the '80s. Berumen later became his assistant and is now a high school head coach.
He took a child fishing in Spur, Texas, one day 30 years ago. The kid's mother, who now lives in Maine, thanks him for it to this day.
"I don't know quite how to explain it - it's David," Berumen says. "There's something special about him."
Milson, who spent the last 23 years coaching Cedar Hill, retired in April. Weeks later, he found out he had lung cancer, a type called adenocarcinoma, despite being a nonsmoker.
He's been down, of course, but the lows don't last long. Someone from the past is there to call or help, to become part of the present.
Someone is there for David Milson.
"How you treat people along the way surfaces in crises," says Tommy Thomas, a friend of Milson's and former coach of The Colony. "What a great example of how well he treated people in the last 25 years for how they're helping him now."
He wanted to watch his daughter play basketball. It was really that simple.
Rylea played for Midlothian last year as a freshman, and Milson saw portions of maybe five games. Tanner, his son, was just wrapping up his final year of high school and preparing to play basketball at UNC-Wilmington.
Time had come for Milson, 52, to stop.
"I spent five or six years chasing Tanner around and loving every minute of it," Milson says. "Now I want to do that for my daughter."
What a coaching life. Milson grew up in Benjamin, Texas, a speck on the map west of Wichita Falls so small it doesn't even have a Main Street. He was the son of a principal and a secretary, and he earned $5,883 at his first job, coaching tiny Spur High School.
He advanced quickly, going from Spur to Olney to Munday to Cedar Hill. He won 676 career games, finished Class 5A runner-up twice, spoke with Bill Self and Rick Barnes, taught basketball in Spain and helped Mike Krzyzewski at Duke basketball camp.
"When we started at DeSoto," basketball coach Chris Dyer says about Milson, "we looked to see whose program we wanted to emulate. That's who we needed to be."
Illness struck earlier
Milson knew this feeling of disbelief and dismay once before. At age 15, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, battled through the chemotherapy and beat the disease.
He admits it's different this time. Back then he worried only about if he could continue playing football and basketball. Now he has a wife, Val, and his children. When an oncologist diagnosed the cancer, he did what everyone would do. He thought about his mortality, and he Googled everything he could about his disease, negativity abounding.
"All this stuff," he says, "runs through your head."
Milson needed a lift.
And for so long, that had been his role.
When he first moved to Cedar Hill, he drove around in his car waving to everyone who passed by. He saw disruptions in the hallways at Cedar Hill and would perform magic tricks to calm the students down. He befriended kids who looked like they just needed someone to talk to. He drove players to the airport for their official college visits, waited with them until their flight departed and showed up the minute their plane touched down from the return trip.
"You're going to be better as a person because you know David Milson," his friend Rex Spain says.
Spain coached against Milson when he was at Munday, and, Milson being Milson, they got to know each other.
Spain heard about Milson's cancer in May, though the two hadn't stayed too close. He didn't know that Milson couldn't find a place to get treatment and that he wouldn't be able to go to the renowned MD Anderson Clinic in Houston until mid-June.
But he called Milson out of the blue, as did the Kruger family, other acquaintances of Milson. Spain's wife, Lisa, and Stephanie Kruger were part of Rexanna's Foundation, a group that helps lung cancer patients and has close ties with MD Anderson.
Milson didn't ask for any favors but not long after talking to them, he received a phone call from MD Anderson. He was now able to see doctors in mid-May.
Others have joined in to help. Thomas, the rival coach from the Colony, gave Milson and Val a place to stay when he was an outpatient for three weeks in Houston. Berumen sat with Milson's 78-year-old mother, Bo, at Tanner's Cedar Hill senior awards because Milson and Val were out of town. Friends have also organized a charity golf tournament to raise funds.
"Everybody's glad to do it," Spain says. "He's helped countless people."
The news from Milson's early appointments has been encouraging: two spots on the left lung and one on the right with no signs yet of spreading. He'll drive with the family to North Carolina next week to take Tanner to college and will probably undergo chemotherapy when he comes back.
Milson never yearned for the superstars in his 31 years of coaching. Of course, he wouldn't mind having one now and then. But no, for him, the best teams contained ordinary kids fusing together to do something special, to win.
"I believe you win," he says, "with average people doing above average things."
As a former coach, it's not surprising that Milson views his circumstance as a game, albeit a serious one. Right now, he's preparing and waiting.
And he has his team, people like the Spain family, Thomas, Berumen and the 2,000-plus who have already visited his blog on CaringBridge.org, average people who will do anything to help him win.
"Milson," Berumen says, "would do the same for us."
Inside the numbers for David Milson's career
31 Seasons coaching
23 Seasons coaching at Cedar Hill
676 Career coaching victories
2 Class 5A state runner-ups (2004, 2009)
Charity golf tournament for Milson
When: June 21
Where: Tangle Ridge Golf Club in Grand Prairie
Contact: Eddie Berumen, email@example.com
Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer. Most of this type of cancer is found in smokers. However, it also is the most frequent type of lung cancer seen in nonsmokers.
Like other cancers, adenocarcinoma is the growth of abnormal cells. These cancerous cells multiply out of control and form a tumor. As the tumor grows, it destroys parts of the lung. Eventually, the tumor's abnormal cells can spread to other parts of the body, including the local lymph nodes in the chest and the central portion of the chest; the liver; the bones; the adrenal glands; and other organs, including the brain.
Adenocarcinoma is more likely than other types of lung cancer to be contained in one area of the body. If it is truly localized, it may also respond better than other lung cancers to treatment, especially surgical removal of the tumor and draining lymph nodes.