Announcer Dick Vitale Had to Go 3 Months Without Talking During Cancer Treatments: 'I Felt Trapped'

The longtime ESPN broadcaster dealt with lymphoma and precancerous dysplasia in his throat, which required three months of vocal rest and left him "depressed"

Dick Vitale
Dick Vitale. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty

For more than 40 years, Dick Vitale's voice filled the ESPN airwaves as he commentated hundreds of basketball games for the network. So when the announcer was forced to stop talking for three months as he underwent cancer and tumor treatments, it left him "depressed."

Dick, 82, shared that he was diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2021, two months after he announced that he had recently recovered from melanoma. And before his lymphoma diagnosis, doctors thought he may have bile duct cancer, which would have required a far more intensive surgery. They later determined that he had precancerous dysplasia in his throat, a growth on his vocal cords that could become cancerous if left untreated.

That last diagnosis was still devastating for the Hall of Fame broadcaster, particularly when his doctor said that it could have been avoided if Dick had gone for more regular checkups.

"You're just depressed," Dick told Graham Bensinger on his show, In Depth with Graham Bensinger, of seeing his damaged vocal cords. "You're down, you're upset, you're frustrated."

Dick was instructed to go three months without talking to save his vocal cords and prevent the growths from getting bigger, and said that those months were some of the toughest of his life.

"[Talking has] been my livelihood … Here's what I'm known for, being a talkative kind of guy, going out, having fun," he said. "Not only just the games, but all my life … And I missed that. I missed being me. I felt trapped. I felt trapped. I couldn't express myself. I just felt trapped."

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"It was such a devastating, emotional blow," Dick's daughter, Terri, added. "Him not being able to engage and not be able to talk and us not knowing the outcome of that — it was definitely the darkest time. I'm not a medical professional, but I'm gonna use the word 'depressed.' I would say he was emotionally defeated."

One thing that gave Dick a boost was social media, and seeing the positive, uplifting messages from fans supporting him through his cancer treatments.

"Thank God for social media — especially when he couldn't talk — because he would get messages from people like 'praying for you,' 'thinking of you,' sharing their story like, 'I'm in chemo too,' " Terri said. "Let me tell you, he read every single one of them. He probably responded to most of them, and they all resonated with him, and it was why he did it more. He literally got energy in his darkest moments through social media, through people engaging with him in that way."

On April 14, Dick joyfully shared on Twitter that he was officially cancer-free after his last chemotherapy appointment.

"It was RING THE BELL TIME!" he tweeted. "Yes it was a tough 7 months but it was super hearing Dr Brown @SMHCS say that I have zero cancer currently. I was inspired daily by the famous words of my late buddy Jimmy V 'Don't Give up DON'T EVER GIVE UP!' "

And in July, Dick will be the recipient of the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance — named for the late Jim Valvano, his former broadcast partner at ESPN whom he quoted in his tweet — at the 2022 ESPY Awards.

"When I received the call from [ESPN president] Jimmy Pitaro about receiving this award, I was absolutely blown away," Dick said in a statement to ESPN. "I remember that day almost 30 years ago, when I stood on stage at the first ESPYS, introduced Jimmy V and witnessed him give that incredible speech we all remember. I reflected on his speech many times during my seven month battle — 'don't give up, don't ever give up Dickie V' — and I remembered my mother and father, who taught me never to believe in 'can't'. Jimmy V was special and his legacy lives on. I am so grateful to receive this tremendous award in his honor."

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