By Lisa Byers
The first scrimmage of the season was just about over. Mike Seman, then an assistant coach with the Jamestown girls basketball team, couldn’t wait any longer.
“I have to tell the girls,” Seman told Allison Gordon, who was the head coach at the time.
After both teams exchanged handshakes and Gordon had a moment to talk to the players, she turned to Seman.
“They’re all yours,” she said.
Seman took a moment to collect his thoughts.
“Ladies, baseline,” Seman called out.
The girls lined up along the wall just behind the basketball hoop. The gymnasium became eerily quiet.
“I’m not going to make it to the last game of the season,” Seman told the girls. “I won’t be here. I have to go into surgery.”
“The other hip?” Seman recalls one of the players asking.
“No,” Seman answered. “I had to have some tests and a biopsy came back positive for cancer.
“You could have dropped a feather on a stack of marshmallows and it would have sounded like thunder.”
His players had no response.
“I’m sure we were messing around before,” said Kaitlin Liszka, a senior guard for the Lady Muskies this season. “He said it really sassy. You could tell he was upset. I don’t think we really knew what to say or how to feel about it. We were in shock.”
“It crushed every single one of us,” said fellow senior Savanah Miller. “I was heartbroken.”
The long road
Not even a year prior to his diagnosis, Seman was getting into his vehicle following practice one day when he slipped and injured his hip. At the time, Seman didn’t think the injury was anything more than a bruise or pulled muscle.
As time wore on, though, Seman’s injury became increasingly bothersome and he eventually sought the help of a doctor.
“The doctor took my right leg and turned my ankle back and forth,” Seman said. “No problem. Then he took my left leg and did the same thing. My entire body turned. The ball and socket had fused together.”
In February 2012, Seman underwent surgery for a total hip replacement by Dr. John Scullin at Edgewood Surgical Hospital in Transfer. Right there by his side were members of the Jamestown girls basketball team, and a lot of them.
“I remember the girls all came to visit me and the room was packed,” Seman said. “I think it was illegal how many people were in there.”
Seman recovered fully from the operation and in November returned to the gymnasium as the assistant girls basketball coach.
Shortly thereafter, Seman’s family doctor moved out of his private practice and into the hospital. Seman and his wife, Judy, changed family doctors and Seman scheduled a routine physical with his new doctor, Dr. Barbara Merovich in Jamestown. During the checkup, Merovich noticed Seman hadn’t had certain blood work done in quite some time and advised he have some tests run, including the Prostate-Specific Antigen Test, which measures the blood level of the PSA.
“When the results came back, they showed my PSA was elevated,” Seman said. “The doctor said, ‘Let’s wait a month and try again.’ We waited. I went back and had the tests done again. The numbers came back elevated again.”
Seman was referred to a doctor in Pittsburgh for further evaluation and it was recommended that Seman have a biopsy. The morning of that first scrimmage back in December of 2012, Seman made the trip to Pittsburgh to get the results.
The diagnosis? Prostate cancer.
“I remember being rather calm,” he said. “My wife was really upset. But I just thought, ‘What am I going to do?’”
It took the members of the Lady Muskies basketball team a little while to digest the news their coach had broke to them that December evening. But once they had, they knew the best thing they could do was be supportive.
Liszka said for the most part, they just tried to keep everything normal.
“We wanted something to stay the same for him,” Liszka said. “Basketball was a place for him to get away from everything.”
They also chose to honor their coach by wearing blue ribbons — the color for prostate cancer awareness — on their shoes. A year later, many of the players still wear those ribbons.
“I remember one day, I think it was either for breast cancer awareness or the Coaches vs. Coaches game, the girls all started laughing and went into the locker room,” Seman said. “They come out and they have a blue ribbon on their shoes. I didn’t think much of it.
“The next day, we’re in the old gym, which has a stage. The girls put their basketball shoes on the stage while they changed into their street shoes. I thought, ‘Wait a minute. They all have one little blue ribbon on their shoes. What is that for?’
“I’m driving home and all of a sudden it hit me. ‘Mike, you idiot. They’re for you.’”
It was a tough ride home for Seman.
“I’ve been with them in the gym since eighth grade,” he said, his voice quivering. “I’m laying in pre-op and I’m thinking, I know my family is praying for me. I’m good there. I know I have the best doctor for the procedure. I’m good there. And based on those blue ribbons, I have the girls’ support. I’m good there.”
Seman made it out of surgery on Feb. 13 with the best results possible. He is now cancer-free.
“It was kind of hard to go through,” Liszka said. “He’s such a good person and to have something so bad happen to him. We’re all proud of him for going through it so well. He is recovery so well from everything.”
And like his team had his back, Seman had theirs. When Gordon resigned as head coach at Jamestown, Seman submitted his application. Now, Seman is the head coach of the Lady Muskies, and there is no place he would rather be.
“They are a different group,” he said. “They are a little weird at times. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh. How am I going to handle being with them for another year?’ They are not boring I’ll tell you that much.
“But I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
“He’s a person who I feel we all kind of look up to,” Liszka said. “He has been a big supporter of all of us.”
“He’s more like our father I guess you could say,” Miller added.
And that respect and admiration comes both on and off the court.
“He has always cared about us more than just players,” Liszka said. “Just the other day, he made us all text him to let him know we got home all right because the weather was bad … he’s just Mike.”
Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.