KINGSLEY, Iowa | In 2006, I wrote about how Jamie Pollard, new athletic director at Iowa State, made a remarkable first impression on a Northwest Iowa family in the throes of a health crisis.
Jerry McDermott, of Cleghorn, Iowa, suffered a leukemia relapse and was undergoing treatment at Mercy Medical Center when Pollard stopped by on June 19, 2006, the day of Pollard's first Siouxland Cyclone Club Outing at Dakota Dunes.
Pollard saw McDermott for 20 minutes, two men sharing "war" stories about oncology. Pollard's son, James, a 3-year-old at the time, was also battling cancer.
The meeting, which had been secretly arranged by McDermott's nephew, Kelly Greber, of Hinton, Iowa, meant the world to McDermott, a diehard Cyclone if there ever was one.
McDermott told Pollard he was soon heading to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha to begin the 100-day process it took for a bone marrow transplant. He joked, saying Nebraskans had 100 days to convert him from a Cyclone to a Cornhusker.
Pollard pulled out his calendar and circled Oct. 7, 2006, the day the Huskers would visit Jack Trice Stadium. He asked McDermott to join him in the athletic director's suite for the game. The invitation resonated, giving the patient a goal.
Sadly, Jerry McDermott didn't make Ames that autumn. The 43-year-old died two days before the game. Pollard had kept in touch with Jerry's wife, Beth, and sent gifts throughout the 100-day span, even reaching out in Jerry's last week on earth.
Fast forward to this fall; specifically, to Saturday when Marvin McDermott, Jerry's older brother, watched the Cyclones defeat Kansas from Pollard's suite at Jack Trice Stadium. Marvin McDermott, 62, was diagnosed with a recurrence of melanoma five weeks ago. This time, he said, it's terminal. He'd been treated for melanoma one year ago and had a cancerous mole removed on Oct. 5, 2016, the 10-year anniversary of Jerry's death. (Marvin and Jerry were born on December 19, incidentally, though eight years apart.)
"I felt sick on Monday, Sept. 11," McDermott said of the recurrence. "That weekend, two fingers on my left hand had felt numb. And when I tried writing out a check for my truck insurance on Monday (Sept. 11), I had difficulty doing it."
After ruling out a stroke, doctors discovered a mass on the right side of Marvin's brain. He's been told that seven tumors on his brain are at stage 4.
"I'm hoping for a miracle from Saint Peregrine, who had cancer until Christ came down from the cross and cured her," he said.
Marvin, a bachelor farmer who raises corn and soybeans north of Kingsley, sat with his family after the diagnosis. His sister, Judy Wagoner, of Holstein, Iowa, asked if there was anything he needed. "No," he said, "I have it all right here."
That didn't stop Judy's son-in-law, Todd Wingert, of Fonda, Iowa, from reaching out to the Iowa State athletic director, knowing how well he'd treated Jerry. Marvin is an ISU alum, having attended Briar Cliff before graduating from Iowa State's dairy science program in 1977.
It took all of 10 minutes for Pollard to respond to Wingert's email. In minutes, Pollard arranged for the family to use his suite at the game on Saturday.
"Marvin is living day-to-day," sister Judy said, adding bits about her brother's philosophy. When it's darkest, for example, Marvin searches for stars. When it rains, he seeks the rainbow.
"Saturday was typical of this," she continued. "It down-poured before the game and after the game. During (the game), it was beautiful. We found a beautiful rainbow that day!"
That's not all that Marvin McDermott found on Saturday. As fate or chance would have it, he reconnected with his Iowa State roommate, Ted Greiman, of Garner, Iowa. The two men hadn't seen each other in 40 years. Ted Greiman's family, according to Judy, was also in the Jamie Pollard suite as members of the extended Greiman family, Don and Yvonne Greiman, were honored as Cy's Favorite Alumni of 2017.
"It was so much fun," Marvin said as he sat in a combine on Tuesday. "We were right behind the band in the north end zone and got to celebrate with the players and the band after the game. I had my hat off and waved it up the air and danced around with Cy. It was really a fun day!"
As Shane Wenzel, a friend, guided the combine through Marvin's soybeans, I asked the cancer patient about a timetable.
"I've not asked about a timetable and the doctors haven't said," he said. "I'm just saying I'd like to get to 70."
Reaching such a milestone would involve more prayers to St. Peregrine, perhaps resulting in more starlit nights, rainbows and Cyclone triumphs.