Digger Phelps, Former Notre Dame Hoops Coach, Free of Bladder Cancer

Wednesday, 03 Jul 2013 05:45 PM

By Ken Mandel

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Digger Phelps has beaten many opponents during his storied collegiate coaching career. He can add cancer to the list again.

Phelps scored a second large win earlier this week when doctors told the former Notre Dame basketball coach that the cancer is gone two months after undergoing treatment for bladder cancer.

"(The doctor) said, 'You're cancer-free; you're fine,'" Phelps, who turns 72 on July 4, told the South Bend Tribune. "I got a little emotional. I was tearful when I thought about it."

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Phelps, who coached the Fighting Irish from 1971-91, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in April, after he noticed blood in his urine, the Tribune reported. He endured six weeks of therapy in which tuberculosis bacteria were introduced to his bladder.

Having previously beaten prostate cancer, Phelps received the great news of his second big victory on Monday.

"A lot of relief," Phelps told WSBT-TV. "Our prayers have been answered."

Phelps credits early detection and having courage to beating the disease, which the American Cancer Society estimates will kill about 15,000 people in 2013; they say roughly 72,500 new cases will be diagnosed. More than 500,000 people in the United States are bladder cancer survivors, according to their website.

Phelps said a special message of encouragement came from Father Theodore Hesburgh.

"He looked at me after he blessed me and he said, 'have the courage' and boy that just floored me and those words, 'have the courage' never left me," he told WNDU.com. "It just gave me the fight and the will. My wife was talking about what we should do for my birthday and I said no, the gift came Monday I don't need any present."

Phelps plans to stay busy. The winningest coach in Notre Dame basketball history will head to Israel to lead Team Canada in the annual Maccabiah Games, an international Jewish event, WSBT-TV says.

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