Coach Deckert stages battle against lung cancer

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal editor

BV Journal file photo 

BV head boys’ basketball coach Brent Deckert cuts the final strands of the net following the Lynx’s 2018 AA state title victory.

Brandon Valley boys’ basketball coach Brent Deckert has had to rally his teams back from the brink of despair over the course of his career. There’s been times when his late-game coaching heroics have reaped a victory, and occasions when the opposing team simply walked away with the win.
 
No matter which way the ball bounced, one thing for sure is that Deckert never gave up coaching the Lynx boys until the final buzzer sounded.
 
He’s now taking that “never give up” mentality into his personal battle: Stage 4 lung cancer. The cancer has metastasized to his lymph nodes, shoulder blade, hip, spine and abdomen.
 
“I just look at it like this: Very few people take things for granted – and this is the only thing that helps me – because I’m not quite 52 years old, so if I get up in the morning and I feel good, then I go to work because I think that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re 52,” Deckert shared in a mid-afternoon interview last week.
 
A physical education teacher at Brandon Valley Middle School, he continues to work and adamantly wants to see the 2020-21 basketball season through to the end. His only absence from work thus far has been for intermittent medical appointments.
 
His cancer diagnosis was confirmed this past August. After “just feeling sh----” in late July, he scheduled a doctor’s appointment the next month and began treatment in September.
 
“I was having some issues breathing, so I assumed it was pneumonia,” he recalls. “But there was no infection in my body, unfortunately. It was all in that cellular level.”
 
His current treatment – gene therapy – consists of six pills each morning, four at supper time and two pills before bedtime, which he cites as “about the only good news that I’ve gotten since the beginning of this thing.”
 
“This type of lung cancer – and I’ll probably mess up this explanation – has a certain type of protein in the cancer cells and the gene therapy that I’m on is basically building the opposite protein or some sort of protein that I don’t have in my body, and it’s attacking those cancer cells and is shrinking. I can tell it’s working because I can breathe and move and function,” he said. “What the oncologist told me is that this would be the least invasive, best-case scenario if my cancer cells matched what they already had developed, and when it came back positive – that was great.”
 
Essentially, the gene therapy is attacking the cancer cells in his lungs. Doctors will next devise a plan to control the cancer that’s spread to his bones, hip, spine, shoulder blade and abdomen.
 
“It started from the lungs, so they have to deal with that first,” he said.
 
As a non-smoker, Deckert was taken aback by the lung cancer diagnosis.
 
“From what they’ve said is I have a DNA screw up, something genetically when the good Lord put me together,” he said. “It was just a matter of time before it was going to come out.”
 
Deckert said the first weeks following the diagnosis took a toll on him both mentally and emotionally.
 
“wI think you go through a couple of weeks feeling sorry for yourself, but after you get through that, then I think it’s a lot better,” he said.
 
After word of his diagnosis began to trickle out into the community, the support he and his family have received poured in – and continues to pour in. Fighting back his emotions, Deckert sums up that support as “humbling, very humbling.”
 
“I’ve had a lot of people reach out and whatever you expect it to be, it’s been far better than that. That much alone is the hardest part,” he said.
 
Last week, colleagues within the Brandon Valley School District announced a T-shirt fundraiser on Deckert’s behalf. That, too, he says is overwhelmingly humbling.
 
“I think there’s a lot of people that maybe want to do some things, but there’s nothing we need,” he unselfishly says. “Paul Lundberg (BVSD Business Manager) is as big of an MVP in this situation more than anything else because of what he’s done as far as getting insurance for people at Brandon Valley (School District). That’s been a huge, huge help.”
 
The (Corson) Pink Ladies also came forth, wanting to gift him with a blanket and financial donation. 
 
“I’m like, how about if you bring me a blanket,” he said. “I would probably be happier if we did a fundraiser and gave the money to the Adam Bauer Scholarship or something like that. I would say the biggest thing that’s been helpful to me – and I know people want to know the details of what’s going on – is if somebody wants to ask me a question, go ahead. But what helps me more is (for friends to) come and sit down and watch TV with me or just sit and chat with me.”
 
T-shirts can be ordered online at dakotasportsonline.chipply.com until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 5. The T-shirt sports a BV logo, the wording, “We fight Together Coach Deckert” and the coach’s longtime motto, “T.G.H.T.” – “The Game Honors Toughness.”
 
With the 2020-21 basketball season looming, Deckert fully plans to continue in his head coaching role, this being his 21st season.  
 
“As long as I feel good and I’ve got the juice to do it then I’ll keep doing it,” he says, knowing BV’s assistant coaching staff will step in whenever and wherever needed. “We’ll reassess throughout the year and see how things go. If it’s time for someone younger with a little more juice, then we’ll make that decision, too,” he said.
 
Second to God and family, coaching basketball ranks next.
 
“Coaching has always been easy because it’s all what I’ve wanted to do since I was young,” he said. “I don’t want the cancer to be the deciding factor, I just don’t want that. I don’t want it taken from me unless I’m ready, and if I’m ready, then fine, I’ll do it. I just don’t know what it would be like to wake up without a team – that’s the hardest part.” 
 
His middle child, Jaksen, is a senior at Brandon Valley this year, and his youngest, Kennedy, is a freshman. As expected, both play hoops for the Lynx, and Deckert doesn’t want to miss a moment.
 
“I don’t want to miss watching my daughter play, but I’ve never put myself mentally in a position to think what it’s going to be like when I don’t have a team,” he said.
 
While balancing work, coaching and family life with his cancer diagnosis may present challenges, Coach Deckert remains adamant that the team keeps their focus on the season and not on him.
 
“I’m not going to try to do anything any different. I’ll sit the team down and we’ll have a conversation early on and that will be the end of it. I certainly don’t want this to be the focal point,” he said. “We’re going to try to play as hard as we possibly can. We’re going to defend, we’re going to rebound and we’re going to play unbelievably hard as a team. And if we do that, then great.”
 
Deckert also continues to find support from his colleagues in the sport and has witnessed a handful of relationships mended.  
 
“I’ve literally had almost every basketball coach that I’ve coached against reach out, and we’ve actually brought some people together that have spent a lot of time apart, whether it being they were angry with each other or some in the family world, some in the coaching world, so there’s some good to (come out of) it,” he said.
 
The longtime Lynx coach admits he experiences exhaustion, largely from the medications taking hold, but he continues to plunge face each day head on.
 
“They told me I can do everything that I normally do,” he said. “They’ve told me that if my lungs can handle it, I can work out until my lungs can’t handle it anymore.”
 
He’s doing his best to eat healthier at the same time he’s been directed to gain some unwanted, yet physician-encouraged weight, which he perceives as a measure to prepare him for what’s to come next. 
 
“The medicine I’m on now is ‘Plan A’ and I’ll stay on this until it doesn’t work and then ‘Plan B’ is either immunotherapy and chemo or … I think they’ll want to keep me going on the same path as long as it’s a positive path,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t know how fast it’s going to go, we don’t know how slow it’s going to go – nobody knows that. The only thing that’s maybe different between you and me is that I know my days – I’ve got numbers now, you know? Whatever days I have are limited, but so are everybody else’s. If I look at the bright side, I’ve had my dream job for the last 21 years even though we haven’t won every game This has been a really good place to raise my family. I have three wonderful kids, and obviously with Jill (his wife), I kind of hit the lottery there. I’ve had some big wins, but she’s the biggest.”
 
Despite the odds, he’s not ready to throw in the towel yet.
 
“Everybody has things that they want to do and it’s not like I’m not going to keep setting goals,” he said. “I just may have to be a little more selfish with my time, and I’m not quite used to that. Right now, I feel good, and like every goal – I want to get to the (basketball) season, I want to have the season, and I want to be able to get to the end of the season, and then we’ll make a decision from there.”
 

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