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Faith fuels former Bulls GM’s fight vs. cancer

PWilliams -- NBA Hall Famer motivational speaker best-selling author Orlando Magic  co-founder vice president -- speaks President's Prayer LuncheAdvocate

Pat Williams -- NBA Hall of Famer, motivational speaker, best-selling author and Orlando Magic co-founder and vice president -- speaks at the President's Prayer Luncheon at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 4, 2013 6:26AM



When he was diagnosed with cancer, Pat Williams had two choices.

The one-time Bulls general manager could sit around feeling sorry for himself and spend every waking moment thinking about having multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Or he could continue with his busy life working with the Orlando Magic basketball team, writing books and jetting around the nation giving inspirational speeches.

“The doctors said, ‘Go live your life, we’ll tuck the medical stuff around it,’ ” Williams said Thursday. “I don’t even think about it. I talk here, go home (Thursday night), we have a daughter graduating college on Friday, I have a talk to give in Orlando Sunday morning, etc. I don’t have time to think about (cancer), and that’s the way it should be.”

His philosophy brought him to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he gave an inspirational speech to about 300 people during the hospital’s celebration of the National Day of Prayer.

He urged his audience to rely on their faith in God when facing hard times.

“We have a faith that is fixed, a forgiveness that is free, we have a fellowship with our Heavenly Father, and we have a future that is forever. Isn’t that wonderful?” he said.

Williams, who turns 73 Friday, was stunned when his cancer was diagnosed in January 2011.

“That’ll get your attention real quick,” he said.

There is no known cure, but a variety of drugs, some experimental, have Williams feeling better these days.

“I’m into the third year of treatments and chemo and new medicines. I’m the ultimate guinea pig. I told the doctors, ‘Whatever you want to do, I’m easy,’ ” Williams said.

Free copies of his new book, “The Difference You Make,” written with Jim Denney, were given to those attending his speech Thursday. He autographed copies for all who asked. The book touches on his illness and its impact.

Having cancer, he said, makes him more appreciative of things he may have taken for granted.

“A pastor told me, ‘Jesus could have stopped this, but he decided to let it go ahead.’ I’ve thought a lot about that,” Williams said. “I’m much more sensitive to others and I’m suddenly thrown into the world of cancer fundraising.”

When he’s not writing, speaking or simply answering calls from other cancer victims, Williams is busy as vice president of the Magic, a team he helped found in the early 1990s.

“We had a long, long season. We have a young team. If you’re 22, you’re almost a senior citizen on our team,” he said.

The departure of former Magic star Dwight Howard, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, inspired the decision to go young, Williams said. With a bad record, the Magic will have one of the top four picks in the first round of the NBA draft next month.

Basketball is a good diversion for Williams, the Bulls’ GM from 1969 to 1973.

“I think in the closing years of my life, this is my great mission, to make a difference in the myeloma world in fundraising, research and one-on-one counseling,” he said. “It’s a world I never could have imagined, but I’m in it.”

Williams said he wants to live to celebrate his 100th birthday. Don’t bet against him, said longtime friend Ken Lukhard, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center. Lukhard’s father-in-law was diagnosed with multiple myeloma seven years ago and is doing well.

“I admire Pat and all he stands for, especially the dignity he has shown during the greatest fight of his life. As a devoted father, husband and mentor, Pat remains an inspiration to us all,” Lukhard said.



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