Coach's cancer diagnosis brings Gonzaga team closer

The coach of a high school basketball team who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer got more support than she could imagine from both her family and her team.
Zach Goudie files this report for Sports Day Canada, featuring a special team from Gonzaga 3:17

The coach of a St. John's high school basketball team who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer got more support than she could imagine from both her family and her team.

Sarah Khan was the coach of the Gonzaga Vikings boy’s basketball team when they were in junior high school over two years ago when she was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Sarah Khan was forced to step back from coaching the Gonzaga junior boys basketball team when she was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin's Lymphoma a couple of years ago. (CBC)

Khan said when she told her team why she wasn't going to make it to practice anymore, it struck home for a lot of them.

"For most of the boys, they actually told me that it was the first time in their whole life they actually met someone who had cancer," she said.

"You spend so much time with them, it's like you get to know them really well. Not only that, you find out what's going on in their life. I mean, for personal reasons, sometimes kids can't make it to practice or games."

Colin Connors said the tight-knit team didn't take the news lightly.

"Everyone was just in complete shock, we didn't know what was going on," Connors said.

"A few people started crying [and] it was a huge shock to all of us because Sarah meant so much to us that season."

Davin Brown said Khan's news was difficult to process.

Davin Brown says their coach was like family, and finding out she had cancer was difficult for the entire team. (CBC)

"It was just a big family, so that was like finding out a family member had cancer. That was really tough," Brown said.

"I think we took basketball a bit more seriously then, because it was more than a game then, it was like, 'We've got to do this for Sarah.'"

Family support

When Khan went into treatment, her brother, Yasir Khan, was the one to step in and pick up coaching the team and support his sister.

He was close to finishing medical school in Toronto, but knew the tough road his sister was facing and decided to return to St. John's to help.

"Being a coach myself, it was just natural that I wanted to step in and help out," he said.

"I remember I was in the process of studying for my Medical Council of Canada qualifying exams, and I remember getting the call from my parents one evening, and it was a pretty hard phone call to take for sure."

Khan's team and her brother managed to keep her smiling through her treatment.

The boys even shaved their heads and sent her a photo of them all together, holding a get well sign.

The team shaved their heads to show their coach Sarah Khan that they were supporting her while she battled cancer. (Contributed photo)

"When I got [the photo] for the first time, I cried a lot. I was really emotional," she said.

"They did so much for me, just to make sure that I knew that they cared, and they all cared so much."

Khan's cancer is now in remission and she's back to coaching, this time the Gonzaga junior girls team, but she still makes it out to watch her boys play and support her brother.

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