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Dick Vitale, cancer-free, rings bell to signal end of chemotherapy

The Hall of Fame college hoops broadcaster was diagnosed with lymphoma last fall.
Hall of Fame ESPN college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale rings a bell Thursday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, signifying his final chemotherapy treatment. Diagnosed seven months ago with lymphoma, Vitale is in remission, his doctors said.
Hall of Fame ESPN college basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale rings a bell Thursday at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, signifying his final chemotherapy treatment. Diagnosed seven months ago with lymphoma, Vitale is in remission, his doctors said. [ JOEY KNIGHT | Times ]
Published Apr. 14|Updated Apr. 15

SARASOTA — Over nearly a half-century, he has crafted his own vernacular, spawned countless imitators and made legions of college basketball fans intermittently cheer and chafe.

But late Thursday afternoon, without uttering a syllable, 82-year-old Dick Vitale resonated like never before.

Dickie V chimed in, all right, and for one mild evening, cancer got rejected.

Roughly seven months after his lymphoma diagnosis, the Hall of Fame ESPN broadcaster strolled to a Sarasota Memorial Hospital courtyard and rang a small golden bell, signifying his sixth and final chemotherapy treatment for lymphoma.

“He is in remission,” said Dr. Ken Meredith, a surgical oncologist and devout Kentucky basketball fan who bonded with his patient instantly.

Family members (including wife Lorraine and two daughters) and Vitale’s team of doctors from the hospital’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute joined him for the small ceremony.

Meredith, a Kentucky native, wore a blue Wildcats do-rag. A group of staffers from the institute waved white pompoms and rang purple cowbells.

Afterward, Vitale thanked his medical team, loved ones, ESPN family, coaches who have offered steady support, and the fans. He later placed a small chalk-white rock — with the word “Love” inscribed on it — in a small fountain.

“My god, your messages, your prayers have been totally so special to me,” said Vitale, his unmistakable New Jersey bellow considerably softer and raspier. “Because at times, it was tough.”

With that, Vitale momentarily broke down for the first of a handful of times during the event.

His lymphoma diagnosis came only months after he underwent multiple surgeries to remove melanoma and was declared cancer-free. Additionally, he required surgery in February for Dysplasia on his vocal cords, a condition that shut him down for the remainder of the college basketball season.

Prior to the ceremony, staffers at the institute’s Oncology Tower warned that Vitale — fatigued from the final treatment — would say only a few words before departing.

But in no time, Vitale the patient again had transitioned to Dickie V the dynamo, and a few words became a mere warmup.

“Only four cents — four cents — of every dollar that is funded and raised for cancer goes to pediatrics. And that is a crime,” said Vitale, an indefatigable advocate for children’s-cancer research who spent much of the ceremony promoting his annual fundraising gala also held in Sarasota.

“It all goes to my late buddy Jimmy (Valvano’s) foundation. Don’t give up, don’t ever give up. I can hear Jimmy’s words and I know he’s jumping up in hoops heaven now, knowing that I’m still going, because until my last breath I’m going to beg and plead people for dollars.”

On Thursday, that breath got a second wind.

Dickie V is cancer-free.

“When we went home at night and my dad was here, we felt like he was in incredible care, and we knew that he had the most attentive staff,” daughter Terri Vitale Sforzo said. “I just hope you all know we all have a grateful heart and we’re so happy to be here on this side of (the treatment).”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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