Okulaja's Story, Part III

In the final installment of Inside Carolina's three-part interview with Ademola Okulaja, the former Tar Heel reflects on the life-changing developments, looks ahead to the future and gives thanks to those who have supported him through the process.

What is your long term prognosis? Do you even know?

They said the chemo had a positive impact and the cancer is reduced. But now on April 6th I have to go back in the hospital. They are going to take a piece of my bone and then in that piece of bone they can see exactly how much it went back. With blood you can go a certain level, but with a bone piece they can see everything. And then I'll know for a fact.

So far, the cancer that I have, there is no cure, so I will always have it. And of course, you know that cancer is deadly. But with the right treatment, you can put it on, as I call it, you can hit a pause button. In some people you can even hit a stop button. They live with it for ten or twenty years, but I will always have it in my body. The question is whether it is going to break out again. So I am going to do my best.

So, obviously, you have to monitor it very closely.

I guess every 3 to 6 months I'll have another blood test and they'll see. And then it's just praying that it stays as small as possible.

I suppose then that you will now be following pretty closely medical advancements to see if there are any developments that can aid in your recovery.

Of course. Your life changes drastically. In one second or one minute it changes drastically. A lot of times I get asked if my values have changed and I just say that my values never change. My values have always been, first of all health, second family and third friends and those three things will never change for me. Of course now my health is, you know, public. But now family is very, very close and my kids and my wife give me strength and support me 120 percent.

Are you hopeful to inspire others because so many people know you and have followed your career?

Yeah, I hope that people see that, yes, it is a deadly disease or that it can be deadly, but you don't have to put your head in the sand and that you can look forward. You can still have a very nice life because it is not said that you are going to leave this earth tomorrow. You know, it could be two years, five years, 20 years maybe even 50 more years so that you are 80, 90 or 100.

So, if you get the diagnosis and put your head in the sand that day right away - that to me is what is called negative energy. Cancer or diseases, they feed off of negative energy and I just try to think positive most of the time or all of the time. I just feed my mind and my body with positive energy and then to look forward - keep planning, you've got to still go. Your life does not stop with that diagnosis. It keeps going.

I had an interview with a huge magazine here in Germany and they interviewed me and from that article I got a lot of positive responses and people saying that I inspired them so I'm happy.

Now, I was just invited yesterday to do some TV show to talk with some panels and I was like "Ok." It is all so new to me, but definitely I am going to just inspire people to keep fighting. Life goes on, so why not enjoy it and get the most out of it while you are there? You cannot decide anyway when you are going to leave. That is not your choice so enjoy it until you leave and enjoy it the most you can.

I bet with that outlook you are really enjoying your time with your family and your kids.

Yeah, like I said my kids inspire me so much so I'm always going to keep fighting because I want to see them go to school and you know, first girlfriends and graduation. I want to see all of that. I want to be there. I didn't come here just to have some kids and say bye-bye. For me they are an inspiration and I am going to keep fighting.

Do you have hopes of playing basketball again?

The doctors say it looks good. In the middle of April I have another meeting in Cologne with the doctor that operated on me. He is going to look at everything and do all the X-Rays and the tests and then he is going to tell me what his prognosis is. Before the operation he said 100 percent, definitely that I will play again, because he also had a guy who was a jockey with exactly the same thing. With jockeys riding on those horses, he said it is like six or seven times more pressure that they have to endure and he is doing it. So he said that playing basketball shouldn't be a problem, but I'm going to do the tests and we'll see.

Like I said, I'm going to try to do my best, but at the same time I'm 33 now so I'm taking everything slow. I'm not rushing anything. I'm taking one step at a time and when the results come I will make the decisions.

I'm a baller and of course I'll always want to ball. I want to be the guy playing when I'm 45.

Does anyone at UNC know about your situation?

Yes. Coach [Bill] Guthridge called me. When I heard, I called Makhtar N'diaye, Vince [Carter] and Antawn [Jamison]. Well, Antawn knew already before he came to Berlin. I told him. Shammond [Williams], of course, also knows.

Coach Guthridge even called me a week ago and we talked for a few minutes. And of course I know that the coaching staff and everybody at Carolina is wishing me the best.

To purchase the shirt and support the charity, click here, then locate the red "Quick Search" box on the top left of the page, type "Ademola" and then click "GO."

Tell us about your t-shirt "The Warrior Will Be Back" and the associated charity?

The t-shirt was an idea that I came up with along with this company in Germany regarding my intentions of returning. Both getting back healthy and returning to the court so it is saying two things. But, more importantly, every dollar and every cent that we get from the tshirt is donated to a cancer clinic in Berlin that supports kids with cancer and their family. It helps them to cope and endure the cancer in the best way. It could be anything from a payment to just bringing clowns. For the kids it is much more important to grab a distraction. At times the organization also helps underprivileged families so the parents can stay in Berlin close to their kids. For example, if somebody from the south comes up to Berlin they can't travel back and forth everyday so this can help them get a place in Berlin and pay so the kids have their number one person next to them - their family.

So for me, when I read about them and heard about them, I was like "boom" right away that is it because first of all it is in Berlin so when I am there I can visit. Second of all, I know the people working in it and 100% of the donations go straight to the kids so it is not like some foundations where you donate $100 and 20% goes to paperwork and all of a sudden you have money disappearing. With that charity 100% goes to the kids. That was very important to me as well.

Of course, number one though was the kids because I'm 33. I can explain to myself why they are putting this needle in my arm and why am I having to lay in this bed for 24 hours and can't move. I can explain that to myself, but a kid, they cannot. They are wondering "why are the sticking my all day with these needles." For them to endure or understand or cope with the situation - well, anything that makes it any easier for them is great and I think it is a great foundation.

Is there any message that you would like to send out to your fans at Carolina.

Oh yeah, definitely. First of all thank you for all the support and interest that they have in me over all of these years. It shows me again that Carolina is not a just a University or a great team, but it is a family. Not only the players that played there, but all the fans around it, you know, we are all one family. That is a great feeling

Again, I'd like to thank them for all the support they give me in which it ultimately also strengthens me that I know that people out there are supporting me and wishing me well. That is always a great feeling.

The first time I came back after the chemo and went to the gym there was a standing ovation. It brings tears to my eyes. There are goose bumps that I can't explain. Of course, standing ovation if you have a great game is one thing, but the coming back and the people appreciating what you have done all these years, you can't put that into words. It's just great.

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