Pete Cavender always prided himself on being strong, and for staying on top of his health. But hearing just one word changed his life.
Cavender played at Boise State from 2003 to 2007, and has spent the past eight seasons as the Broncos’ color analyst on radio broadcasts. He underwent surgery in January for what he thought was a benign growth on his thyroid, having half the gland in his throat removed.
At his follow-up a week later, he found out the growth was cancerous.
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“Obviously, it was a shock. Thought they would take out my stitches, send me on my way and that’s it,” Cavender said. “After that, I could barely pull myself out of the bed, the emotional toll of it. When you’re told you have cancer, you can’t help but be angry, wonder, ‘Why me?’”
Cavender, 31, had a second surgery in March to fully remove the thyroid after undergoing a radioactive iodine uptake test, which helped to see if the cancer was spreading.
“That biopsy before the first surgery was about 99.9 percent accurate, and unfortunately I was that 0.1 percent,” Cavender said. “Luckily, I had my routine physical once a year, so it didn’t get too bad. I know it could have been much worse.”
With no further complications, and back on the microphone this season (he missed the spring game while recovering from his second surgery), Cavender said, “I’ll forever bleed blue and orange, I’m so happy to still be a small part of it.”
His doctor first discovered the small lump in his throat last August, but since they determined it was unlikely to grow, Cavender put off the surgery until January.
“Knowing the sort of surgery, he didn’t want it to affect with calling the games,” said Katie Cavender, his sister.
Katie is the Mountain West Conference’s assistant commissioner of strategic communications, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Pete’s twin brother, Jeff, another former Boise State offensive lineman, lives in Boise, on the same street.
“First time in their lives they live in separate houses, and they end up a few doors away,” Katie said with a laugh.
Pete’s battle with cancer was not the only one in the family — his father, Bill, was diagnosed with kidney cancer in November. Like his son, Bill is doing well now, though he also sports a battle scar from having a kidney removed.
As Boise State celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the first Fiesta Bowl-winning team Saturday, it brings up some unique emotions for the Cavenders. Pete, who started nine games at guard in 2005, missed the 2006 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but his brother kept him on the field, wearing Pete’s No. 64 as he started the final 12 games, including the 43-42 overtime victory over Oklahoma.
Though he couldn’t play, Pete helped out that season however he could: Filming practices, breaking down film, donning the headset during games, offering encouragement.
“It was pretty devastating when he got hurt in 2006, but when you’re talking about cancer, that’s life and death, something truly serious,” Jeff said.
Said Pete: “I thought that was adversity. I kind of learned things aren’t always fair, and you can deal with the cards you’re dealt, which I think kind of helped with what I went through this past year.”
Naturally, an immediate concern was if the cancer was genetic. Both Jeff and Katie were checked earlier this year, and both were cleared.
“I’m really glad he acted quick and took control,” Katie said. “He’s maybe the most driven person I know, he’s not going to be afraid of any obstacle.”
Most of the time, despite his radio gig, Pete keeps to himself. He said he was a little embarrassed after being diagnosed, wondering if he did something wrong. But in an ironic twist, he saw the other side of his full-time job as an employee benefits broker, that despite his youth and athletic background, regular checkups are important.
“You really get an appreciation to not take anything for granted,” Pete said. “Life’s precious.”
Colorado State at No. 15 Boise State
- When: 8:15 p.m. MT Saturday
- Where: Albertsons Stadium (36,387, FieldTurf)
- TV: ESPN2 (Mark Neely, Ray Bentley, Cole Cubelic)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 5-0, 2-0 Mountain West; Colorado State 3-3, 1-1
- Kickoff weather: High 50s, with wind and rain
- Vegas line: Boise State by 31 1/2
- Series: Boise State leads 5-0 (won last meeting 41-10 in Fort Collins in 2015)
- Tickets: Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said Monday afternoon that 5,500 tickets remain. They are available at the Boise State ticket office, at broncosports.com/tickets or 208-426-4737.