David Shaw comes into the infirmary and sits by the bed. He does this almost every day, around lunchtime.
He sees his little brother Eric sneaking into the car and humming. Eric no longer resembles Eric, his skin has darkened, his scars have deepened, his facial features have changed. They both know it, but they never mention it.
They talk about films or random memories from their childhood, where they were often inseparable, cycling, playing video games and challenging each other to basketball. They avoid talking about why David comes as often as he does, even though they know the reason.
Eric dies, a rare and aggressive skin cancer rages so violently through his body that his doctors have almost no choice. Radiation’s out. Chemotherapy failed. Two bone marrow transplants failed.
As a head football coach at Stanford, David Shaw always knows what to say, how and when to say it; but he can’t find words when he and his brother contemplate the seemingly inevitable fate.
Fault! The file name is not specified. David Shaw and Cardinal Stanford open their pandemic season on Saturday as they go to their Oregon Pac-12 opponents. John Todd/isiphotos.com
What do you think, where do you think you pulled the last strings and the strings are gone? David said… All I could say to him was that I loved him and that I was there for him. The rest was just… I thought it was only a matter of time before he died.
Two years later, what happened between David and Eric remains real, real and untreated – all their relationships have changed, what it means to be a brother has been redefined. Words are still difficult to pronounce, so they lie at the end of the legs around the overwhelming physical and psychological effects that Eric’s cancer has taken on.
David and Eric will probably think about it all weekend when Stanford opens his season in Oregon on Saturday. Because the last time Cardinal Eugene visited, no one knew whether Eric would live or die.
After Stanford came back from behind to win game 38-31 in overtime, David sent a message at the end of his post-game TV interview in which he looked at the camera and said: My brother Eric: I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. He hit a green needle on the black Stanford sweater before he left the screen.
When Shaw became head coach at Stanford in 2011, it was the highlight of a family outing. His father worked there as a coach for a long time; David played as a receiver for the Cardinal and eventually returned as an assistant under Jim Harbau. Shaw’s whole family – Willie and Gay’s parents, along with David, Eric and his sister Tawney – regard the Bay Area as their home.
To this day David says that the day he was introduced as a trainer was one of the best days of our lives.
But something started to happen to Eric that no one could understand. That same year Eric found strange stains on the upper body. His wife, Crystal, noticed the first one under his arm. They thought it might be eczema. That’s when the stains started to spread. He went to the doctor. They prescribed an ointment, but the stains kept coming out until they covered his whole body. At one point, the tumours started to grow. It looked like someone had put balloons under his skin. The doctors were confused. Eric had an uncontrollable, insatiable itch. Her skin was so itchy that it was difficult for her to dress, shower, sleep and go to work. In the end, he needed sleeping pills to be able to sleep peacefully.
Fault! The file name is not specified. It took several years before Eric Shaw’s disease was correctly diagnosed as a rare form of skin cancer called fungal mycosis. The first signs were psoriasis-like spots all over the body before the tumors began to form under the skin. Shaw’s polite family
Although he itched unconsciously, he didn’t know what had happened until he woke up in the morning and found his hands and sheets covered in blood. For several nights he tried to sleep on his forearms so that his body could not touch the sheets because his skin became too sensitive to any contact. At one point he had more than 30 open wounds on his body.
It’s something so commonplace and so destructive that many people have psychological problems – nothing can be done without extreme pain, Eric said. They bleed profusely from tumors, damage, scratches. In fact, many people do not survive because of the psychological stress they are under.
It is difficult for doctors to diagnose her disease because it is often confused with psoriasis, eczema or other skin diseases. They eventually discovered that he suffered from a rare form of skin cancer called mycosis, a type of T-cell lymphoma that affects one in six million people in the United States and Europe. Eric Shaw was 38 at the time.
In 2013, together with Crystal, he transferred him to the Stanford Cancer Center, where the leading specialists in the field of this disease work. Fangos-mycoses are so rare that they make up only 4% of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas; of those who suffer from them, only 20% have the kind of itching Eric has experienced. Few people are younger than 40 and African-Americans often have the worst predictions. All odds were against him.
When you first hear about skin cancer, your thoughts don’t go too far, David said. At first, I said: There are creams and other minor interventions. I think it’s gonna be okay. And then Eric said: No, it’s not typical skin cancer. It’s in my body. It’s in the layers of my skin, and it’s more than a stain. He’s everywhere.
After that I didn’t get it for weeks because I was repairing something that I thought wasn’t so serious that I [thought] ….. Oh, my God! So it’s cancer. Now it’s really scary. It took a long time before it sank.
David turned it around in his head. He was an older brother, a defender who always made sure Eric was okay. They had to raise their children together, grow old together and remember the happiness of living together.
He kept coming back to one thought: You can’t lose your little brother.
David and Eric Shaw became particularly close as children when their father Willie moved from one place to another to take up a new coaching position. Taunya, his big sister, has her place in every social place. But David and Eric, who’s two years younger, stay together.
As a couple, David said.
They loved to cycle and when they moved to Arizona, they took advantage of the huge new subdivision where they lived. They covered many miles, built their own driveways and went on bike rides and excursions, and visited friends on the road before returning home at nightfall. They also played sports, and although David loved football as much as his father, it was on the basketball court that the brothers fought their epic battles.
I’ve always been a little stronger and I’ll never forget the last time we played single basketball, David said. He just got better, and he won, and once I got over my anger and disappointment, I was proud that my little brother had grown up and gained confidence.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Although they have different identities, the brothers David left and Eric Shaw formed a strong bond during their youth. They were like a couple, David said. Shaw’s polite family
That’s what Eric says: I wanted nothing more than to hit him, and he wanted nothing more than to hit me over and over again. But then it was just us, just him and me. He was my best friend.
David continued to play at Stanford and eventually became a coach, against the wishes of his mother. Eric had no career in track and field. He went to San Diego and started a marketing career at a financial services company where his group style, big smile and easy smile made him perfect. Although their personalities are different – David is stoic and introspective, Eric gives everyone the feeling that they will be friends forever – they are based on the same values they learned at an early age: Family and faith come first.
These principles were not reinforced until they matured in the bay.
After David was hired by Stanford, Shaw’s whole family said she’d always be there for him. All family members have a permanent invitation to dinner on Tuesdays. And they always go to the home games, wave and hug David when the team is running for the game, get sick on the stands and wait together for a while after the game.
Even when Eric got sick, he decided to cheer for his big brother. It’s not just about football. Our family comes together, he says. We celebrate, we come to the game, we support the team and we support David. And then, win or lose, we all wait for him to come out. It’s a family day. It was great to share this experience with David.
Stanford finally brought them even closer together, and it had nothing to do with football.
Eric did not understand the seriousness of his situation until his first meeting with doctors at the Stanford Cancer Center in 2013. You talk frankly: He had such an aggressive form of the disease that he had to be treated immediately. They started with a total irradiation of the skin and prepared Eric for the loss of his hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, nails and claws.
If that didn’t work, they tried chemo.
All those thoughts go through your head, Crystal said. Will he live? Will it work? What will happen? Our youngest daughter was 3 months old at the time, so it was pretty impressive. We put our lives together, and then bam: You’re in the middle of a war on cancer.
Fault! The file name is not specified. David, left, and Eric Shaw in 2014, around the time Eric started treating a rare and aggressive skin cancer. Shaw’s polite family
The following week, Eric took a vacation and drove four times a week from his home east of Palo Alto, California, to Stanford Hospital, often for up to three hours in one direction in traffic. When he arrived, he went into a box and his whole body was exposed to radiation for an hour. Then he came home to see Crystal and her four children – Caleb Michael, Jared Spann Shaw, Madison Shaw and Olivia Shaw.
The radiation has charred his skin. He’s lost weight. When he looked in the mirror, Eric didn’t recognize the man looking at him.
Nothing prepares you, he says. Knowing that other people were watching me and that something was wrong, it was a daily routine to get out of bed and prepare for the day, knowing that this was going to be my life.
He did this three months in a row, all to prevent the disease from developing to the point where he would die. It didn’t work for long, but six months later the disease returned more aggressively. Doctors have switched to chemotherapy treatments, some of which are experimental, but have also started to discuss the last option: bone marrow transplantation.
David and Tawney immediately volunteered as donors and were tested. In most cases, siblings are the best chance of finding a compatible donor. Unfortunately, in his case, neither were close. On a 10-point scale Taunya scored a 3, David a 5. None of them may make donations.
I wanted to get up and say: Whatever I have to do, whatever you have to get out of me, whatever you have to do, do it, David. It was disappointing for them to come back and say you’re not strong enough. I was in pain. The fact that we have to trust and believe in people we did not know, and that we have to go to the registers and try to find someone better than me, that uncertainty and doubt, it is difficult to keep them at bay now. He’s starting to infiltrate.
You’ve lost all hope. There was nothing left, but we were in the deepest part of the valley, and there was no one left but God. I said: You will take me away from this country. And he told me: Eric, you’re not dying. It was a time when my faith really took over and I really had peace.
Eric Shaw, just when he thought he was running out of cancer treatment options.
By the end of 2017, the disease had returned so badly that the doctors decided that Eric needed a bone marrow transplant, which had long been talked about. Finding the right couple was extremely difficult: Only 4% of the donors in the bone marrow registry are African-American, so the chance of a match is 16%.
In the end, the doctors found two donors they thought could work, but they weren’t perfect for each other. In early 2018, Eric and his family moved to a three-room apartment near Stanford Hospital to prepare for a transplant. It was irradiated for three months and then treated with chemotherapy to prepare the body to receive the donor cells.
He underwent a transplant in April and felt confident and inspired that it would work. A month later, the doctors performed an initial check to determine how many cells from the donor had survived the transplant.
It’s like I haven’t even had a transplant, Eric said. It was so awful. We knew it would work. I mean, we are people of faith, and we knew that everyone was praying for us and we were praying that this six-year journey would finally end. And it’s not over yet. It was disturbing for her to say that: It didn’t work. Let’s try again.
The second attempt took place in September. Crystal bought lemon green pins for the family to wear to raise awareness about lymphoma. Without telling Eric or Crystal, David decided to wear it with a t-shirt for the 2018 football season. In addition, green and yellow ribbons have been added to the back of Stanford helmets to show support to cancer patients and survivors.
Fault! The file name is not specified. During the soccer season 2018 coach David Shaw and the players donated green ribbons to raise awareness about lymphoma. David Bernal/isiphotos.com
He told his team that his brother was fighting cancer and mentioned the tapes in his headphones briefly in public during a preliminary press conference. But beyond that, David kept the weight of what happened to his brother to himself and masked his growing nervousness, anxiety and anxiety like a ticking clock until the next transplant. It was hard for him to digest what was going on. He didn’t want to put him at the feet of his players or staff.
The doctors used the same donor cells that were first used on the 11th. Moreover, no second transplantation was carried out on 1 September 2018, as this was the only option available. But this time the doctors used even stronger drugs to prepare Eric’s body for the donor cells, hoping that this would be enough not to attack his immune system.
Then Stanford on the 22nd. When Shaw’s family played in Oregon in September, no one in the family knew if the transplant had worked. But the situation was worse than the first transplant. Stronger chemotherapy led to serious complications and Eric became seriously ill.
David brought the game with that feeling in his heart. After overcoming the 21-7 deficit, Stanford won the span, started the season 4-0 and held a TOP-10 match against Notre Dame next week. Back in Palo Alto, Eric watched the whole match alone in a rented apartment near the hospital.
He had no idea his brother would talk to him on TV until he heard my brother Eric…
I wasn’t sick at all at the time, Eric said. I can’t describe how I felt, how proud I was of him and how incredible it would have been to do it for me.
David said: If this transplant didn’t work, I didn’t know how many more matches he could watch. It was an opportunity for me to talk to him on national television, to tell my brother that we came back in spite of everything, and throughout the game I thought of him.
Eric went back to Stanford Hospital shortly after that. Chemo destroyed his circulation, so he needed a daily blood transfusion to stay alive. No wonder the doctors told him the second transplant had failed. Now they had no plan or other options for donors. David came as often as he could, but it was hard for him to find the words to tell his dying brother.
I’ve been thinking about Crystal. I was thinking about his kids, Shaw. I was thinking, how can we help? And then I moved on: We can’t reach it. There must be something else. And we all prayed and comforted each other, trusted the doctors and prayed for the doctors. And he kept talking: Just tell us what the options are. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.
During the day Eric kept his mother, Crystal, David or Corey, David’s wife, by his side and helped distract him from what was happening to him. But in the evening, when he was alone in his hospital room, he had no choice but to think about the diminishing medical possibilities and his own death, and slowly accept what he thought was inevitable.
They were able to tell us what the odds were, and I honestly put it out of my mind. If it’s Hail Mary, we’ll sit down and let him go as far away as we can, and with him we’ll send prayers and hope he’ll work.
David Shaw, when the doctors revised the idea of him as a donor to his brother…
In seven years, everything the doctors tried to do failed and the disease returned more and more aggressively. He felt exhausted in every possible way and tried desperately to feel better. He didn’t want to die. All he wanted was to heal, see the children again, kiss his wife and go home. But this opportunity seemed as far away as the stars.
The doctors couldn’t help us, Eric said. They’ve lost all hope. There was nothing left, but we were in the deepest part of the valley, and there was no one left but God. I said: You will take me away from this country. And he told me: Eric, you’re not dying. It was a time when my faith really took over and I really had peace.
His team of doctors reconvened and developed a plan that many of his colleagues questioned, simply because they had never tried to implement it. In mid-October 2018 they told Eric that they wanted to try a third transplant.
But this time they wanted David to be a donor and they only had a few weeks to realize it.
Eric thought they’d kill me?
When David was first rejected, doctors spent 25 years looking for a way to do half identical transplants, but with little or no success. In 2018, doctors explained that there was another way to get a transplant, which offered the opportunity to try it out with Eric. These transplants, which are called haploid transplants, usually involve the use of donor cells from a family member.
Dr. Wen-Kai Weng, Eric’s doctor specializing in bone marrow transplants, explained that it was relatively new at the time. We decided to continue because we knew that otherwise the disease would really come back with a vengeance.
No one at Stanford has ever done a third donor cell transplant.
If he hadn’t taken that risk, he wouldn’t be here, said Dr. Yoon Kim, who treated Eric and runs the Stanford Multidisciplinary Cutaneous Lymphoma Clinic. He wouldn’t survive.
The doctors told Shaw that there’s a 15% chance he won’t survive the transplant. If he survived, there was only a 30-40% chance that the donor cells would work. Compared to a much greater chance of survival without transplantation, a solution – filled with many layers of danger – did not seem risky at all.
We had to try.
They were able to tell us what the odds were and I honestly put it out of my mind, David said. If it is a Hail Mary, we sit down and let him go as far away as possible, we pray with him and we hope it will work.
Without hesitation, David’s brother told me what to do.
Fault! The file name is not specified. David Shaw underwent an unusual bone marrow transplant to help his brother Eric. Instead of taking stem cells from his thighs, he was given medication that stimulated his body to overproduce the cells needed for the transplant. Shaw’s polite family
Stanford met early on the 27th. October at his team’s hotel to begin final preparations for welcoming the State of Washington the same day. David checked in at 9:00, and when the check-in was over, he left the hotel without saying a word. He approached the rear exit, made sure no one would see him and sneaked out the door to the waiting car.
Shaw sat in the passenger seat and went to Stanford campus and the hospital to pray that what he was about to do would work.
He arrived at the hospital and was hooked on a drip for the first dose of medication. This would not be a more conventional bone marrow transplant, where the cells are removed by needle through the thigh. Instead, the drugs circulating in the drip stimulate his body to produce the excess stem cells needed for the transplant by allowing them to flow into his bloodstream. Cells are taken from his blood and transplanted into Eric.
The doctors told him to expect joint pain and fatigue within 24 hours. These symptoms will only increase in the coming days when he comes for more medication. They told him not to get up, rest and stay hydrated.
That would be nice, David thought. But he had a game for the coach. Only two people in the program knew he was leaving that morning: the assistant director of the sport for football operations, Callie Dale, who took him to the hospital, and the protection coordinator, Lance Anderson.
Fault! The file name is not specified. On the same day that he underwent a bone marrow transplant for his brother, David Shaw received an unexpected hug from his two young nieces Olivia and Madison. John P. Lozano/isiphotos.com
David said the way I do my job, I work very hard not to do it because of me. Although I wanted my team to know what my family is going through, school football is about student athletes. I wanted them to concentrate on what they had to do. I didn’t want to get out. I didn’t want it to be about me and my family all of a sudden.
A few hours later he returned to the team hotel and pretended to have been there all day without saying anything on his way to the hospital. Shaw put up his green pin and went to the bus. That day, a short drive to the stadium seemed far away. He lost his mind before returning to the flipchart for him.
When he got off the bus and walked to the stadium, his two young nieces ran towards him. They squeezed her out and held her longer than usual, as if they knew that her Uncle David was her only option too.
During the game David began to experience pain in his knees and legs, resulting in a heartbreaking loss of 41-38 panthers. This pain only increased over the next few days as he continued to receive daily treatment and even drove from the football stadium to the hospital on a golf cart without knowing it. Looks like he was carrying a 200-pound backpack the whole time. Normally he walks from one place to another during training, but he has difficulty walking because his legs, thighs and shoulders hurt a lot.
He was afraid the players would notice his slow movement. If they did, no one would say a word. Shaw continued to push the pain away and pushed his emotions deep inside him and said the prayer at every opportunity.
On Wednesday, Shaw woke up and felt so lazy. He went to the hospital for the final procedure: removing cells from the blood. The show puts on comfortable clothes, puts cushions inside and sits down for a long day. The doctors connected him to a device that does the work with two drops: One took blood from him so that the necessary donor cells could be pumped away, the other gave the blood back intravenously.
Eric was resting on another floor of the same hospital.
David worked on his game plan, watched several films and occasionally watched his own blood in the form of drops to save his brother. He kept repeating himself, God, I hope this works.
It was ready in eight hours. Then Shaw went to practice.
I remember walking up to him and just asking: What’s going on? How are you feeling? Says Anderson. I saw in him that he wasn’t a normal person. He took a little break, then he said I was fine. I’m a little tired, but I’m fine. You know, I’m just trying to put it in as positive a light as possible.
The next day, the first one. In November 2018, Shaw went back to the hospital. It was transplant day and he had to be with Eric to witness what they hoped would be a miracle. David and Crystal watched Eric transfuse David’s stem cells, a bright pink, glistening liquid that flowed into his body. They sang and prayed. You’ve already got some good news: The doctors took 28 million cells from David’s blood, about 20 million more than they had hoped.
The next day, Stanford went to Seattle to play a game against Washington. David felt guilty about leaving, but he knew there was nothing more he could do. At the hospital, Eric was not only confronted with a transplant, but also with heavy chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which prepared his body for new cells.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Eric Shaw had a dangerously high fever, pain and vomiting in the first days after his third transplant attempt with his brother David’s cells. A few weeks later, Eric started to make a turn for the better. Shaw’s polite family
Eric’s temperature rose to 105 degrees and he was sick for a few days. The pain increased so much that his morphine was poured in and out of his consciousness. In Seattle, Shaw remembers being stuck in the game, except for the little moments when my heart was with my brother.
Stanford lost another heartbeat, 27-23.
I know we losers had nothing to do with what David went through, Dale. But filling it with everything he had to do was already a lot for him. He has told him many times how Eric told him that every week is the greatest joy to see us play and win. I know David was under a lot of pressure, the pressure he already had as head coach to beat Eric. And I know that every time he did it, he really felt it was for him. And when we came to the end, I know he must have been even harder on himself than usual.
At Stanford, David visited Eric whenever he could. But waiting in the game required more and more mental effort. David is proud of his ability to break down, to concentrate on the one thing that awaits him. He never goes out and rarely gets emotional. But Shaw collapsed from the inside.
He often watched the cut piece in the red area and didn’t notice that the film was interrupted for 20 minutes while his consciousness was drifting away. Every time this happened, he stopped and called someone, a brother, a wife, a mother or Crystal to see how they were doing.
There were times when I thought life was in slow motion, but it actually moved, and I was in slow motion, David said. Sometimes I felt like I was talking: Is it for real? Is it really? This shouldn’t have happened.
In the middle of every meeting, in the middle of every movie, he would pray in silence: God help my brother. Please, make it work.
Looking back, I know more about everything that happened and the situation, Anderson said. I found out last week what he was dealing with and how much he had to take. And it’s amazing what he’s been through this week without any of us really knowing what he’s been through and what it’s really like.
A few weeks later, Eric started to turn the corner. Although they don’t yet know if the transplant worked, it showed enough improvement to leave the hospital in 52 days. David arrived for the big day, and Eric slowly put on a protective mask before pushing him into the waiting wheelchair. Doctors, nurses and support staff stood in the hallway, clapping and cheering.
David cries when he remembers this moment, his feelings of dissatisfaction flood in when he first describes it in public.
Fault! The file name is not specified. After his third bone marrow transplant, Eric Shaw was reunited with his wife Crystal and two of their four children, Madison, whom he had left, and Olivia. Shaw’s polite family
It’s my little brother who came out of the hospital after years of cancer, Shaw said his voice was trembling. He stops to wipe tears from his eyes. The nurses were crying. The doctors were crying. Because they’d prepared us for his death a few months earlier. And he should go home.
Three days later the doctors came together with Eric and Crystal to find out the results of the transplant. Only 27 days later, no blood was spilled into Eric’s body.
It was all David’s.
Eric answered the phone.
Dave, Eric says. You have twins. We really are blood brothers.
Eric, who turns 46 on Friday, has led a fairly normal life since he was born on 1 January. January 2019 has been declared cancer-free, although the coronavirus pandemic has limited the Shaw family’s ability to see each other.
In September they decided to get together to celebrate all their recent birthdays at David’s house. They stayed on the street, socially scattered, masked. Eric and David kissed. Get out of the way.
Every time I see him, I laugh, you know? Because he had to be there, David said.
The shows describe what happened as a miracle. Like his doctors, who now use Eric as an example for patients with similar diagnoses.
Although David was not our first choice, David wanted to be our first choice, according to Dr. Michael Hodadoust, also a member of Eric’s medical team. It’s nice to know those are his cells in Eric’s body. It’s not a stranger, it’s his brother who keeps the lymphoma away.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Before the coronavirus pandemic made a rare group visit, the Shaw family gathered in 2019 to celebrate the anniversary of Eric’s discharge from the hospital. Shaw’s polite family
Dr. Weng says he estimates that the chance of recurrence of the cancer is less than 1%. His doctors even told him he couldn’t see her because he didn’t have cancer anymore.
Eric and David want to tell their story in the hope that they can help cancer patients and survivors, while encouraging people to think about becoming bone marrow donors. David always wears his green pin, which he calls a badge of honour.
But a really profound and meaningful conversation about cancer, the trauma that followed and their common bond escaped two years later. Bats of gratitude often replace words.
It was embarrassing, David said.
How do you ask someone you love what it’s like to stand on the threshold of death?
How do you ask a loved one what it feels like to save his or her life?
At some point we’re going to sit down together, because I know he feels very strongly about his role in saving my life, Eric said. He’s got a little protection, and that’s what I’ve always known about him. I hinted what it meant spiritually and how it really changed me completely from the inside. I don’t even know if I have enough words to express how I felt about him before all this happened.
But when God uses it to save and influence me and my family, it is almost indescribable what it means to me in terms of what He is my brother, whom I have always admired. We need a lot of tissue.
Click here to learn more about the latest research on bone marrow transplantation or to become a bone marrow donor.