From the Sports Editor: Buckson not letting cancer pin him down


Eric Buckson (File photo)

You can’t referee a high school wrestling match and not know what pressure feels like.

And it’s not like there’s any less adrenaline pumping when you’re coaching the sport, either.

But for a real heart-stopping moment, says Eric Buckson, try looking down at your cell phone and realizing it’s your doctor calling to tell you whether your cancer is seriously life-threatening or not.

Whatever his answer, you know this is a huge moment in your life.

“I’m walking down the hallway and I see that number come up across my phone,” said the Polytech High wrestling coach. “And, wow, that’s when your heart rate runs through the roof. You’re like, ‘OK, …’

“But you know what?” he continued. “You just answer the phone and deal with it. That’s what I did.”

It’s been a month and a half since the 51-year-old Buckson, who is also a Kent County Levy Court commissioner and former wrestling official, had a large tumor and part of his stomach removed as the result of surgery for gastric cancer.

Of the three possibilities for Buckson, the cancer diagnosis ended up being one of the “good” ones.

He wants people to know, that, all things considered, he’s doing just fine.

He did drop 15 pounds from his already-thin frame and he faces more drug chemotherapy and testing. But the ordeal wasn’t a death sentence for the Polytech teacher and father of four.

Buckson had started to see some talk online that his situation was worse than it was.

“There was a lot of concern, a lot of people finding out,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Listen, relax. I’m going to be OK.’”

Of course, that’s not to say that going through a cancer diagnosis and surgery was easy for Buckson or his family.

His father, former governor David Buckson, died on Jan. 17. And the Panthers were in the middle of their season while all this was going on.

Buckson had his surgery on Feb. 15. His assistant coaches, Joe Garbe and Jimmy Demko, took on more responsibilities with the squad to help out.

But Buckson made it to as many matches and practices as he could.

“I preach to these kids that one of the hardest things they do is turn left every day into our wrestling room vs. going out to that parking lot where their friends are leaving to go home,” he said.

“I talk to them about the commitment to stay with it. So the last thing on my mind was taking a rain-check on the season. All I was doing was trying to get back in there.”

Being in wrestling season actually helped Buckson realize that something was wrong with his body in the first place.

While he may not do any live wrestling any more, he does like to go through the drills with his wrestlers.

Early in the season, though, he just didn’t have the energy he used to have. Finally, after the Beast of East Tournament in December, his wife, Jennifer, convinced him it was time to see a doctor.

Really, the only other thing Buckson said he noticed was some pain in his back.

“In typical guy fashion, I thought it was just me,” he said. “So I tried to run it off. I literally went out and tried to jog a mile to see if I was just making it up. Physically I just couldn’t do it.

“I remember toughing it out during the Beast of the East and then Monday morning I went to the emergency room. That’s when the journey started.”

Buckson doesn’t like to think that cancer has changed him mentally.

He believes he never took life for granted.

“When I was saying my prayers, it was pretty simple,” said Buckson. “I wasn’t praying that it wasn’t cancer, I was praying that I could get through this. That way you’re prepared for any news.

“I’ve always tried to pride myself on being somebody that enjoys life — that goes after life on a daily basis, to enjoy not just big things but little things. What this diagnosis did was maybe reaffirm that.

“The best thing about this situation for me is, I didn’t sit in that chair and go, ‘Man I’ve got to make some lifestyle changes.’ I never felt that because I was fortunate enough to have already been in that mindset. All this did was kind of sharpen that belief.”

The other day, Buckson spent about four hours working on baseball with his sons, Brent, who’s on Polytech’s varsity, and Graham, who plays in Camden-Wyoming Little League.

Just like you would have found him doing last spring.

“My prognosis is bright,” said Buckson. “Except for the fact that I’m thin, my mindset is ‘nothing’s changed.’ I don’t feel weak, I don’t feel sick. I’m just me.

Odds & ends

•Dover High hosts rival Caesar Rodney in baseball on Monday at 4:15 p.m. The Senators have won the last two meetings.

•The Delaware Turf Sports Complex is holding a press conference on Monday to announce a partnership with both M&T Bank as well as Delaware State’s women’s lacrosse and soccer programs.

•Retired Delaware Secondary School Athletic Association executive director Dale Farmer will be honored at DIAA’s board meeting on Thursday.

The former Smyrna High coach and teacher headed the organization from 1970 to ’91. He will receive DIAA’s lifetime achievement award at 11 a.m.

•On Thursday, new Delaware football coach Danny Rocco announced that receivers coach Fontel Mines was leaving the Blue Hens for another opportunity. It turns out he’s been hired by Delaware’s CAA rival, James Madison, the defending NCAA Division I FCS national champion.

•Delmarva Christian is the first downstate school to have a high school boys’ volleyball club team.

The Royals will play their first match when they host Salesianum’s junior varsity on Monday at 4 p.m. There are 10 varsity club teams in New Castle County.

“It’s only a matter of time before the sport makes its way to southern Delaware so I wanted to be ahead of the curve,” said Delmarva coach and athletic director Jim Berger.

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