Looking towards an eighth season working as the coach of the Las Positas College basketball team, Tony Costello stands on the hardwood of the Nest observing several new recruits. Dawning a Las Positas polo shirt and khakis, he shouts orders and his players respond in kind.
Everything was normal this mid-July afternoon. Las Positas College men’s basketball coach Tony Costello was being his usual dominant self. With his thinning scalp and pencil thin frame, he shouts orders to recruits working out at The Nest.
A mild, yet uncomfortable stomach pain, that had been plaguing him for a week, got a little more intense this day. He finally decided to heed his wife’s wishes and see a doctor. He left practice, turned over the reigns to his assistant coach and heads to Walnut Creek.
He wound up spending three days in the hospital, having lesions of tissue in his lower stomach and pancreas investigated.
“They diagnosed me mid-July, I thought it was appendicitis,” men’s basketball coach Tony Costello said. “I thought I’d be back for my six-o’clock class, but I didn’t make it.”
Head Coach Tony Costello was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and will not be coaching this season.
Though he will not be directly at the helm of the team, he has been around the gym complex and has been conducting background work along with interim coach Ward Farris.
When he is on the campus of Las Positas College, he comes off as chipper and lively, as if it’s just another day. He seems to shine over an internal battle he is fighting with the help of doctors, surgery and chemotherapy.
When asked if there was something he wanted people to take from his experience, he had one simple piece of advice.
“Get checked out,” said Costello. “In my case, pancreatic cancer is hard to detect, but it is possible. I would urge everyone to get checked out regularly.”
This example he sets, that life must go on and while obstacles can arise at any given moment, there can be a tomorrow if you make it that way.
According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreatic cancer spreads rapidly and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
“Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of your stomach,” the Mayo Clinic website says.
“Your pancreas secretes enzymes that aid digestion and hormones that help regulate the metabolism of sugars.”
Doctors told Costello that survival rates for patients with pancreatic cancer hovers around four percent.
In his case, they are optimistic since the cancer was caught so early on.
Upon hearing of the discovery of cancer in Costello’s pancreas, his boss, Athletics Director Dyan Miller, was taken aback.
“I didn’t foresee it coming. He didn’t look sick, it was shocking,” Miller said. Tony’s a great guy, I was thinking ‘what is it that I can do.’”
Miller, who has been the athletic director at LPC for the past six years, also said that they, along with others, have supported Costello and his family in other ways, from sending cards and flowers to even having food catered to his house.
A father of four, Costello also would put in long hours between his regular classes and the basketball team.
He’d stay until 11 p.m. watching film and planning for upcoming games, backed by Miller. Last year’s team finished within two games of competing for the state championship.
The chances of him returning for this season following the 2012-2013 don’t seem too far out of reach, probably thanks to the advice of his wife.
“It’s an asymptomatic cancer,” Costello said. “Usually when the symptoms show themselves, it’s already spread to different parts of the body. The survival rate for pancreatic cancer is very, very low because most people don’t realize they have it until it’s too late. If I hadn’t gone in to get checked, I’d still be walking around with it.”
On August 10, Costello had surgery. Doctors removed three-quarters of his pancreas, along with his entire spleen.
They ran more tests and were unable to detect any further spreading of the cancerous tissues.
He is currently undergoing chemotherapy, not to be confused with radiation treatment, a process that will take six months to complete.
“There’s different types of chemothereapy, the one I am on goes through six cycles,” Costello said. “I’ll go in once a week for three weeks and then take a week off. For me, it was hard the first time. I was nauseous, but now it’s really severe fatigue for me personally.”
The side effects of the treatment will progressively get worse until the process is completed.
He laughed optimistically when he spoke of the end of treatment.
“Hopefully I’ll be back to normal (after the treatment), which may not be a good thing, normal,” he said as he laughed. “It depends who you talk to.”
Cheerful and not too far from normal looking, he has hardly missed a beat with his day-to-day routine.
He watches football on Sunday and checks his work email regularly.
He waves hello to anyone he knows when he arrives to campus and seems to smile even more than before the discovery.
Costello went from being on campus quite awhile to being mostly confined to his home and other simple activities, something that Miller suggests may be a cause for him to come to the LPC campus as much as he does.
“He’s kind of a 24/7 type of guy,” Miller said. “With him not here as much, it’s not really quieter, but you definitely feel it. Tony mentored Ward (Farris) really well and I felt really comfortable with him stepping up and so did Tony. I think he (Costello) gets a little stir crazy at home, there’s only so much TV you can watch.”
While Farris will remain at the helm for the entirety of the season, Costello will surely be there in the background watching tape, looking at the roster or planning for the upcoming schedule.
Between listening to his body and also minding his wife, Costello may have taken the most significant action of his entire recovery process and will ideally be able to return for the following season.
Miller shared Costello’s sentiment regarding regular check ups, but had a few more words of wisdom.
“Most coaches will tell you that their best recruit is their partner, their wife or husband,” Miller said.
“A person to push you and say ‘hey, let’s get this checked out.’ Listening to that person. I think he listened to his wife when she said let’s get this checked out.”